JTA wants PM to clarify vaccination incentive statementsThursday, July 29, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
The teachers' union has called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to clarify statements he made on Monday intimating that unvaccinated teachers could find themselves poorer in the pocket as against their counterparts who have taken the COVID-19 jab.
According to Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Jasford Gabriel, the prime minister's utterances, which he labelled as “quite surprising”, “need to be the subject of much clarification”, especially since the association has been in the forefront of the drive to get teachers vaccinated, and not the Government.
“As an association we have been working in good faith with our teachers and the relevant authorities, including the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, in promoting positive education around the vaccine. This is to the extent that we now have a 40 per cent take-up rate among our teachers which is significantly higher than the take-up rate in the general population which is still hovering around 10 per cent,” Gabriel said.
“Let's also recall that teachers were never listed in the priority set for vaccines originally. The JTA lobbied for the inclusion of our teachers in that regard. We must also remember that vaccines are not readily available, even though teachers would have turned up to take the vaccines in the blitz and were unable to do so,” he noted further.
According to Gabriel, the prime minister's words would only serve to make teachers skittish. He said the JTA would not take lightly any move to force teachers to get vaccinated.
“To the extent that vaccination remains a choice and teachers are governed under the Charter of Rights, any act of coercion to influence our professionals will be strongly resisted by our teachers' union. The latest insinuation by our honourable prime minister is only serving to raise the levels of suspicion and apprehension among the teachers,” Gabriel added.
Holness, during a question and answer session following a national address, had said the Government will be appealing to teachers to be more accepting of vaccines. According to the prime minister, while the Administration was not going to make “anything mandatory”, “at the same time we would have to consider ensuring that teachers who are vaccinated and turn up to work... are treated in some preferential way than those who don't”.
“We may have to ask them to be tested, we might have to consider what should happen regarding how they are remunerated; these are all issues that we will have to discuss. The incentive structure will have to be created in such a way that teachers choose to be vaccinated. Those who get vaccinated will not be treated in the same way as those who don't, and I think that generally that is how we as a society should move ahead,” Holness said.
Yesterday, the JTA president said there was no quarrel with the suggestion to incentivise, but called for more details.
“In keeping with the principles already established by the Government we would have no issue with incentives being offered to non-vaccinated teachers to encourage take-up. The teachers will still have to exercise their option in this regard. We are eager, however, to find out what it is that this preferential treatment for teachers who have already been vaccinated means. Further, to balance such a statement we would expect to hear plans to vaccinate students as well; students outnumber teachers by more than 3:1,” he pointed out.
Added Gabriel, “The major spread of the virus in face-to-face arrangements, when it was possible for this year, was among students for obvious reasons, and so the JTA continues to encourage our members to take every necessary precaution in protecting themselves and their families and all stakeholders against the ravages of the pandemic.”
Opposition spokeswoman on education Dr Angela Brown-Burke, speaking with the Observer yesterday, said incentivising teachers for taking the vaccine should not be looked at simply in monetary terms.
That is, however, where she draws the line.
“I totally reject the notion of differentiated compensation for the unvaccinated. I believe that this thing is not to be taken glibly; the teachers have concerns about vaccination, they have concerns about the conditions under which they work, their own ability to be able to provide a safe space in terms of COVID-19 protocols. They have concerns about how to effectively deliver during this period, and I believe that what he [the prime minister] needs to do is have proper dialogue and engagement that allows them to express their concerns. Not everybody is motivated by money,” Brown-Burke stated.
“I believe anybody would be annoyed and upset at this notion of differentiated compensation,” she said, noting that teachers, if properly wooed, could also evangelise parents and guardians.
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