Tuesday, 07 March 2023 11:37

Teachers resting uneasily - island-wide protest planned for Wednesday

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Uncertainty now shrouds the education sector as teachers step up their demand for an end to wage negotiations amid signals that the matter could escalate to an all-island shutdown of schools on Wednesday.

There are planned sit-ins and sick-outs by teachers up to Wednesday when delegates of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) will vote to either accept or reject the Government's revised wage offer.

Efforts to get a comment from JTA President La Sonja Harrison were unsuccessful up to press time on Monday. However, a source at the JTA advised that teachers should await the outcome of the delegates' meeting at The Mico University College on Wednesday.

Late Monday evening, Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke said that the total retroactive compensation provided for teachers in the third and fourth supplementary estimates is approximately $12 billion, "and this is on hand to be paid to teachers in March 2023".

"To put this figure into context, it exceeds the total increase for the entire public sector for each of the years 2020/21, 2019/20, 2018/19, 2016/17, 2015/16, 2014/15, 2013/14, 2012/13, and 2011/12. In fact, the increase to teachers over this public sector restructuring exercise exceeds the aggregate combined increase to teachers over the last 10 years," Dr Clarke said.

Last Friday, teachers at St Elizabeth Technical High School staged a protest, accusing the JTA of poorly lobbying on their behalf in the wage negotiations with the Government.

On Monday, the protest spread to BB Coke High in Junction and Maggotty High, both in St Elizabeth.

The police, doctors, and teachers are some of the major groups which have refused to sign off on the new compensation package until there is an improved offer from the Government.

On Monday, the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ) said it is concerned about the state of the current wage negotiations and acknowledged the need for teachers to be adequately compensated.

"The NPTAJ is imploring the relevant parties to reach an agreement as soon as possible to avoid further disruption of the lives of our nation's teachers and students. It is important that all avenues to compensate our teachers and avert industrial action be thoroughly considered, as we do not want our children to be placed at further risk, given the already huge learning loss on account of COVID-19," the NPTAJ said in a news release.

BB Coke High School teacher Marvin Robinson said that he and his colleagues are "disgruntled" with both the JTA and the Government.

"There are two matters that we have — the way the Government is handling the negotiations and the way the JTA is handling the negotiations. We just won't accept that salary, it is not liveable," said Robinson who did not speak specifically to the details of the compensation package.

"When we compare that salary to other sectors we are way below, and we consider that to be an insult, a big insult. We are the teachers who create all the other professions and therefore if you are going to treat teachers like that we have to take a stance," he added.

Robinson accused the JTA of poor lobbying and claimed that principals were faring better than the majority of teachers during negotiations.

"As it pertains to the JTA, some teachers would call it the principals' club, because over the years the JTA president has been a principal. Very few times we have [had] regular teachers becoming JTA president, [the] majority of them, they are principals, and those who are in the hierarchy of the JTA they are principals… Each time they go to the negotiation table with the Government that category has benefited the most the majority of the time. So we are disgruntled with that statistic and saying that there is something wrong. We don't want every time we go to the negotiation table we see the principals benefiting the most or persons up in the higher ranks. We are not saying that they don't deserve it, but it doesn't look right when each time they go there that is the trend that we are seeing," he said.

"As it pertains to the Government, we want them to see that we are worthwhile, we are worth something, we are teachers," added Robinson.

"If we do not work in this system you are going to have an uneducated system, and once you have an uneducated system then what is going to happen — crime, all these things are going to happen…" he said

"They need to let us feel appreciated. Feel like we are needed in this country right now. We don't have that feeling. Right now we feel like we are just something set aside and when they want us to be used then you use us and just put us back," he claimed.

A colleague of his agreed.

"We are going straight up until Wednesday," she said in reference to the planned protests.