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Minister of Education, Hon. Rev, Ronald Thwaites, says his office is open for discussions with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), to deal with concerns about the proposed changes to the teachers’ leave benefits.

“I respect the body that represents the teachers of Jamaica and my door is open (and) obviously, discourse is only helpful if it is civil and respectful,” Rev. Thwaites said.

The Minister was responding to concerns raised in the Education sector about the proposed changes to leave entitlements of teachers.

Rev. Thwaites was speaking on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) television programme, ‘Issues and Answers’, on June 6.

During his contribution to the 2013/2014 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on May 15, the Minister announced that the Ministry wouldbe making adjustments to the entitlement of paid study leave granted to the nation’s teachers this year.

He explained that the Government could no longer afford the $2.5 billion per annum cost of study and vacation leave incurred by the country’s teachers.

Rev. Thwaites informed the JIS that in respect of the matters covered in his Sectoral presentation, all of them have been discussed with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association over a period of a year.

“In the final analysis, it is the Minister of Education who has to make the decisions on matters which are left to the Ministry’s discretion by the Code of Regulations, and what we are asking to be done are entirely within the Code of Regulations,” he argued.

“I don’t think they (teachers) could have been caught by surprise. In fact, I invited them to come to a meeting with me before I finished crafting the speech. They didn’t find it possible to come. I did the same with the parents and I did the same with the churches who are major partners in education,” he added.

In addition, Rev. Thwaites stated that the Letter of Intent for the recently signed Extended Fund Facility with the IMF and the Government of Jamaica contains obligations on the part of the education sector.

“In fact, I went beyond what I think was the remit and shared what those obligations were in the IMF Letter of Intent even before it became public knowledge. This was with the JTA because I felt it important for them to know what we were facing. So, there is always room for further discussion and of course my door is open, but I do not think that the leadership of the JTA could claim to be taken by surprise,” the Minister said.

Meanwhile, Rev. Thwaites said the proposed changes to the leave entitlements to the teachers are in the interest of efficiency of the education system and the rebalancing of the budget.

“The rebalancing of leave and leaving entitlements is specifically mentioned (in the Letter of Intent), as is the teacher-student ratio, as is the issue of retirement, which in my view, is the most controversial issue and which has not been taken up,” he stated.

Currently, $574 million is owed to schools for substitute teachers. Teachers are entitled to four months leave with pay for every five years of service.

Contact: Latonya Linton