VTDI employees also frustrated with HEARTThursday, October 28, 2021
BY KELSEY THOMAS
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Frustrated members of staff at the Vocational Training Development Institute (VTDI) are contemplating industrial action based on what they consider to be unjust and disrespectful treatment by the HEART/NSTA Trust.
The institution, like the National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET), has been suffering from a longstanding state of transition following what has been deemed a “successful” merger of HEART with the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), the National Youth Service (NYS) and the Apprenticeship Board.
The merger took effect on April 1, 2017. At the end of the transition, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI) should have responsibility for both the VTDI and the NCTVET.
However, years later, both bodies seem to have been abandoned.
At the peak of staff members' frustration is HEART's reclassification and pay increase from which they have been excluded.
VTDI staff members said the long transition has resulted in “much uncertainty and major discomfort for the staff”.
“It appears that while recent salary adjustments have been approved and received by other staff members of the Trust, the VTDI staff has been excluded from this salary adjustment activity. It should also be noted that many staff members of the VTDI continue to act in clearly vacant positions for a protracted long period, from two years to seventeen years,” an employee told OBSERVER ONLINE.
In some cases, administrative staff at the VTDI reportedly receive up to $100,000 monthly lower than that of their HEART counterparts who carry out the same job functions.
The VTDI is registered as a tertiary institution with the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) and operates under the HEART/NSTA Trust. Its mission is to provide quality, tertiary technical and vocational education and training, using innovative outcomes-based approaches, within a supportive and student-centred environment.
This is undertaken through the offering of programmes at the Diploma, Degree and Postgraduate Diploma levels, as well as short courses and customised training interventions.
Unlike HEART, as the tertiary arm of the institute, faculty at the VTDI are required to have a master's degree.
This means that an instructor, senior instructor, or program coordinator at HEART whose only requirement is that of a Bachelor degree, receive a better salary than those at the VTDI who are more qualified.
But lower pay is not the only concern. Staff members say they have also lost access to several benefits such as funding benefits for education, and due to the lack of job confirmations, others are not granted access to basic benefits.
“Nobody at the VTDI has been allowed to be confirmed in any position from at least 2016,” several staff members confirmed to OBSERVER ONLINE.
They added that HEART's excuse is “their hands are tied, they can't make any positions permanent”.
“We (VTDI & NCTVET) are the bastard children. It's the same thing, the same issue,” they lamented.
Noting that members of staff of the VTDI have reached out to the hierarchy of HEART, the employees said they feel that they have been brushed aside as their pleas fall on deaf ears.
They say that even their efforts to enlist the intervention of the JTA (Jamaica Teacher's Association) has yielded no results as, after all their years of transition, their situation has consistently only “changed for the worst”.
“Anytime they hear we're planning industrial action, they call a meeting or send a letter.
“They call the meeting to say 'we can't do anything, our hands are tied, we're waiting on the ministry' and then the ministry says 'but they have not come over to us so you guys should be able to do things for them'. So, it's a back-and-forth game and we're not the winners.”
VDTI staff members believe they have been treated poorly and have labelled the strategy pursued by the Trust as “inconsiderate, lacking in transparency and grossly unfair”.
This, the employees say, goes against the Trust's Values Affirmation Statement and labour laws which promise to “conduct [our] affairs with utmost transparency, accountability and integrity”.
According to staff members, the issue was raised with representatives from both HEART and the education ministry in a meeting held on Monday, December 14, 2020.
At another meeting, the employees said then Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Dr Grace McLean, underscored the fact that, although the VTDI is in transition, the Cabinet submission was not yet approved.
“She reiterated that the Cabinet paper/submission only means that the process has begun; and that no one knows when the process will be finalised. Therefore, it could be fair for one to conclude that the VTDI has not yet transitioned to the MoEYI.”
They say the last communication received was in February this year.
HEART and the education ministry did not respond to calls for an update up to publication time.
Members of staff of the VTDI also pointed out that they are contracted to HEART, receive their salaries from HEART and have their institutional mandates dictated by HEART. As such, they argue that they are still fully under the HEART umbrella.
“Additionally, one could also assume that the staff of the VTDI should still be receiving the same benefits as other HEART/NSTA Trust staff members since they (VTDI staff) remain officially employed by the Trust, and continue to work to support the mandate of the Trust,” the employees said.
Just last week, employees at the NCTVET threatened industrial action due to similar issues being faced at that institution.