Is the JTA benefiting teachers?
La Sonja Harrison, JTA president

Dear Editor,

The Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is said to be one of the largest public sector lobby groups, representing over 25,000 teachers. Yet, for the longest while, many teachers have questioned whether the union serves the interests of the average teacher or more so principals.

In an article published in the Western Mirror last Wednesday, my colleague and friend Kevonn Grant questioned whether the union was the JTA or the JPA (Jamaica Principals' Association). As he rightly pointed out, within the last 15 consecutive terms every president, except Doran Dixon (principal lecturer at The Mico University College), who served two terms, has been a principal.

Last September I wrote in a piece that "the JTA seems to have become an entity of self-aggrandisement and loudness… It is as though the culture of the last decade has been about who can hurl the most attacks against successive governments and who can put up the fiercest resistance against policies, even those that could be transformative."

The reality also is that the JTA is a highly political entity, both in terms of politicking and in terms of its alignment to a particular political party. Politicians in the past have often celebrated the affiliation of a large number of teachers to their political party. Understandably, many of them or their descendants benefited from free tertiary education many moons ago, so they have reasons to be loyal. However, the younger generation of teachers is not too interested in the political debacle. They want better representation and working conditions.

Teachers are starting to see the JTA for what it is. The resent sit-ins and sick-outs from our teachers happened for various reasons last week. One major concern is that the compensation package is more beneficial to principals than it is to the average teacher. Obviously, when they saw the significant jump in principals' salary, they felt they were being cheated and, thus, argued for more.

Another reason was out of ignorance. Several educators joined the protests without having any solid understanding of how their salaries would be affected. Subsequently, they have called for transparency from the leadership and delegates of the JTA to give a thorough breakdown of the various deductions and net income.

Interestingly, fewer than 1,000 votes determined whether to accept or deny the latest offer. That is a very insignificant representation of the thousands of teachers in the system. Several teachers even admit that they were never consulted concerning the matter.

Who decides what a liveable wage is? Everybody's personal expenses differ, and we will hear different figures depending on who we interview — even despite Damion Crawford's random $291,000 proposal.

The refusal of the JTA president to sign the wage offer agreement with the finance minister and other stakeholders is rather appalling. Some have come out in her defence because it is against her integrity and conscience; others say she experienced misogynistic attitude from her influential male colleagues; still, some believe she is on a People's National Party agenda to sabotage the Government. Whatever the case, it not hard to detect that La Sonja Harrison is a very strong-willed person. Notwithstanding, she was quick to announce and respect the delegates' votes. Leadership requires her to accept the voice of the majority in accepting the offer.

A number of colleagues have since asked for their membership to be withdrawn from the union. Clearly, President-elect Leighton Smith has a lot of work to do in restoring confidence in the entity. But, at this point, a change in the face of the association from a principal to a regular teacher may significantly change the perspectives of things. Let us return the JPA to the JTA.

Oneil Madden

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