Wednesday 20 March, 2019

Jamaican teachers to go on three-day strike

Jamaica Teachers' Association President, Georgia Waugh-Richards

Jamaica Teachers' Association President, Georgia Waugh-Richards

Obviously tired of the talking and claiming to be feeling disrespected in their ongoing salary negotiations with the Government, Jamaica's public school teachers have decided to take industrial action, with indications that they will be staying away from the classrooms from Monday, March 12 to Wednesday, March 14, effectively shutting down the school system.

The likely industrial action will be in the form of a sickout, which internal correspondence perused, confirmed to have been sanctioned by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), which represents the teachers.

This has put both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance on edge.

The teachers are adamant that they will not accept the Government’s offer of 16 per cent salary increase over four years. And they feel slighted that the Government has decided to go ahead and pay the five per cent increase that would accrue in the first year of the four-year contract at the end of the month, despite the teachers having rejected the offer.

In a letter circulated among the 23,000-strong body, a copy of which was obtained by Loop News, the teachers all but scoffed at the 16 per cent increase they are being offered over four years.  This they said works out at $15,000 (EC$316) to $20,000 (EC$422) per month collectively for the four-year period.

“This is blatantly disrespectful,” it is said in the letter.

It continued that “the teachers rejected this offer. However, our employers have decided that this month they will be paying our retroactive salary for the period April 2017 - March 2018. This will see persons getting an additional amount of approximately $30,000 (EC$633) - $60,000 (EC$1266) on your salary this month end. Yes, this is viewed by many as needed money, and (they) may want to take it, but the reality is, this is just for one month. (But come) April month end, only approximately $2,000 (EC$42) - $5000 (EC$105) will be the increase thereon for year one (of the four year contract), not to mention the other years.  Is this what we want to settle for and inflation is not considered, not to mention contribution to our pension?”

Said the letter further: “With all these realities, the JTA is directing all teachers that come Monday March 12 - Wednesday March 14, 2018, we will show our employers how upset we are by their continued disrespect, by not showing up for work these three days. I know most teachers will be asking, how will this work? Will the Government be deducting these days from our salary and bla bla bla. We have our sick days and our casual leave. You decide which one you want to use. Stay home, relax and don’t turn up for work.”

But there was a caution.

Teachers who may be wavering about what to do as individuals are told to be mindful of the following:

* The Government knows that some, if not most, of us will turn up for work because we are cowards who do not know our Code of Regulations. Show them otherwise.

* Some principals might want to threaten the teachers if they refuse to show up for work, but remember, principals are paid almost thrice more than a classroom teacher, so they are not feeling what we are feeling.

* The society at large has this pre-conceived idea that our teachers are greedy and will not give up the little extra lesson money. Prove (the) society wrong.

* Yes, GSAT (and) SBAs (School-Based Assessments) are around the corner. Our employers know this, (and) as such, they chose this time. Prove to them (that) we are not the dunce they take us for.

“‘Sooo’ come March 12-14, 2018,” the JTA correspondence said, “let us show Jamaica that we are not the empty barrels they take us for. Show them we know our rights and conditions of service.  Stay home, relax, sleep, do puzzles. Upon returning to work on Thursday, you present your leave - not before. Looking forward to the support from all.”

In the meantime, the Ministry of Education has said it has put contingency plans in place to ensure that “temporary provisions are made for the safety and security of our students”.

In a news release, the ministry said, “in order to ensure that all schools across the island will be effectively manned during this period, a plan of action has already been effected.”

The plan will see Regional Response Teams comprising officers from the Education Ministry, select tertiary institutions, secondary school student bodies, and the National Parent Teachers; Association being briefed and placed on standby to take charge of classes as of Monday, for the duration of the school day.

“At the end of the day, students will be sent home with an advisory from their school boards indicating whether or not school will reopen next day,” the statement said.

The ministry said the contingency plan is being put in place for 760 primary, all-age and primary and junior high schools, and 171 high schools.

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