Teachers gear up for wage talks

Teachers gear up for wage talks

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

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THE island's educators are already out of the blocks with their claims for the new negotiation period, as public sector groups gear up for the upcoming round of wage and benefits negotiations with the Government.

The current public sector contract period ends on March 31, and president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel has indicated that teachers are expecting an increase in salaries.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic drags on and Government scrambles to ensure that some semblance of the learning and teaching is maintained until schools can physically reopen, teachers have been called on to retool and re-eingineer their approaches and skills, in order to keep students engaged.

Gabriel told the Jamaica Observer that the teachers' union has already carried out its legal obligations for the new contract period by submitting the new wage claims by the end of last year.

“We have not yet met with the Ministry of Finance and Public Service to look at the details as far as the claim is concerned, but suffice it to say that the teachers are expecting that there will be some kind of increase as far as their basic wages are concerned because it's a very difficult situation for some of our teachers,” he said, pointing out that the mass migration of teachers has continued, even during the pandemic.

“It's very critical that we find a way to retain our best teachers; the advancement of the education system relies on whatever incentive can be provided for our teachers,” he said.

In May 2018, the island's public school teachers accepted the Government's pay increase offer of 16 per cent over four years with increases of five per cent in year one, two per cent in year two, four per cent in year three, and another five per cent in year four.

Meanwhile, Gabriel said the salary snag some teachers experienced in the just-ended school term have been tidied up by the education ministry.

“We are not aware of any outstanding issues as far as teachers are concerned. In some cases teachers who were not properly engaged at the local level because would need to get the requisite permission from the ministry. In a few of those cases the salary arrangements had not gone through but for all teachers who have been properly engaged, whether temporary or established staff, the information we have is that they have received their payments,” he explained. He said in some instances requests were made to the ministry for additional teachers, but before the proper documentation or approvals were given, the posts were taken up.

“... So the ministry would not have been aware or would have given permission for the teachers to be engaged so the payment of the salaries became an issue,” he said.

At the same time, the JTA president commended the Ministry of Education for moves made to improve the long-standing problem facing pensioners in the education system, with the lengthy wait to receive their benefits. “We are not working with an automated system just yet, but we are seeing an improvement in terms of a reduction in the length of time [it takes for payments to be made],” he noted.

Gabriel also pointed to an improvement in the resolution of dismissal matters that go before the teachers' appeals tribunal. “Over time we have seen where many of these teachers have been left out in the cold for years. We have been constantly asking for the tribunal to dispense with the case far more rapidly and they have responded in a very positive way. We expect that that will continue in terms of the pace at which they expedite the cases, whether for reinstatement or for a decision to be made,” he said.

According to a survey carried out last year by the Hugh Shearer Labour Studies Institute at The University of the West Indies Open Campus and the Jamaica Civil Service Association, 36 per cent of public sector workers canvassed were doubtful that they would receive a wage increase at the time because of the economic strain caused by the coronavirus crisis.

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