Teachers' strike on pause
Meeting set for Tuesday to resolve issues; Educators march on education ministry office in Mandeville
Protesting teachers marching from Manchester High School to the Ministry of Education's Region Five office in Mandeville on Friday. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

Classes are to resume in State-run schools on Monday after the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) reached an agreement to place on pause a rolling strike it had called Wednesday night to register dissatisfaction with the Government's handling of anomalies resulting from the now-contentious public sector compensation review.

The JTA gave notice of the agreement Friday afternoon after attending an emergency morning meeting with education ministry officials called by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security on Thursday as the strike crippled operations in a number of schools.

The pause in the industrial action is to facilitate a meeting between both parties, as well as the Ministry of Finance and Public Service scheduled for Tuesday, May 30 at 10:00 am.

"We ask the teachers who have registered their displeasure over the past two days to pause such activities and return to work as we endeavour to seek redress on matters which negatively impact our members from the compensation review," the JTA said in a news release.

Placard-bearing teachers protesting outside the Ministry of Education''s Region Five office in Mandeville on Friday. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

Earlier Friday, a placard-bearing group of teachers marched from Manchester High School to the Ministry of Education's Region Five office in Mandeville, voicing displeasure over the anomalies issue.

President of the JTA St Elizabeth Chapter Mark Smith told journalists that teachers remain "aggrieved" and asked that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service respond favourably to the plight of the educators.

"We are asking that both ministries take the opportunity to engage with the president of the JTA and to listen to the concerns of the teachers of this country. We have been, for too long, asked to hold strain and it is very important at this point that we register our concerns [and] how it is that we feel," he said.

Smith pointed to the widespread debate over the massive salary increases granted to politicians which has enraged many Jamaicans.

Jamaica Teacher's' Association St Elizabeth chapter President Mark Smith speaking to journalists in Mandeville n Friday. (Photo: Kasey Williams)

"We really feel that we are being left behind, especially against the backdrop of the recent controversy surrounding salaries with our political directorate. We have no beef and we have no problem with our politicians deserving a raise, but we also believe that the teachers of this country deserve a raise that reflects the work," he added.

He said there are problems with payments made to teachers since the conclusion of negotiations in the compensation review.

"We want people to be held accountable for this type of inefficiency and it has impacted the life of our teachers in such a dramatic way. Many of our colleagues are unable to pay their bills," said Smith.

On Monday, at what was supposed to have been a joint press conference with the Jamaica Police Federation and the National Workers Union, JTA President La Sonja Harrison insisted that the Government responds immediately "to the teachers' plight if, at all, we want to safeguard the education system and to maintain its quality".

She argued that the restructuring exercise undertaken by the Government has had a negative impact on the emotional, mental and financial well-being of teachers, and has particularly impacted senior teachers with up to 40 years of service, the regular classroom teacher, as well as those serving with the post of special responsibility, and vice-principals.

"Haste, they say, makes waste. The Government of Jamaica claimed it had to make payments prior to March 31, 2023. All teachers were not paid prior to or by that date. This was not the position employed for all public sector groupings. With the moving goal post re: payment of teachers' salaries announced by the Ministry of Education and Youth, there was a call for us to be paid our regular salaries, and retroactive sums be paid by a supplementary pay cycle. The narrative persisted why that could not be. The insistence of paying the teachers in an atmosphere of haste has resulted in several teachers from then not receiving their fair due — be it small or great," Harrison said.

She also said several discrepancies and anomalies surfaced from the first payment received in March/early April for some individuals, and yet there were teachers who went on Easter break not having received salaries.

Harrison said the JTA had anticipated that the discrepancies would have been dealt with through the payment that would come in April 2023, but that did not materialise, noting that prior to that she had continued to raise the concerns.

"Our public calls have fallen on deaf ears, and subsequently, we wrote the Ministry of Finance and Public Service on 18th of April, 2023 [highlighting the] anomalies arising from the MoU concluded between the Government of Jamaica and the Jamaica Teachers' Association, March 13 2023."

Harrison said, in that letter the JTA requested an urgent meeting with the finance ministry to establish a technical committee to deal with the anomalies, but there was no response.

She said the education and youth ministry subsequently made contact and a meeting was arranged, at which all the anomalies and discrepancies were noted and the JTA directed to write another letter to the finance ministry — done May 17, 2023 — outlining outstanding matters regarding the compensation review.

— Kasey Williams

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