A written proposal for payment of Government teachers’ retroactive salaries has been sent to the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) for consideration, Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, said Monday (May 3).
Mr. Holness pointed out that while the offer was made to the teachers last week Tuesday, “we have now sent the offer in writing to them, and I’m hoping that they will consider it.”
He was addressing a press conference at Jamaica House, in the midst of an industrial action by the teachers in support of demands for payment of some $4 billion in retroactive pay.
Mr. Holness said that the Government’s move was necessary, as there was an issue regarding whether the offer was properly conveyed in writing.
Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, (left) fields questions during a press conference at Jamaica House on Monday(May 3). Seated beside the Minister, is Chairman of the National Council on Education (NCE) and Principal of Jamaica College, Ruel Reid. The press conference was held to discuss the ongoing strike by Government teachers and other matters.
“We had a meeting, we held the meeting in good faith, we left in good faith and everybody understood what the offer was, but just to perfect the offer, we are placing it in writing,” he said.
Teachers, represented by the JTA, began their planned two-day industrial action Monday in protest against Government’s decision to pay them 25 per cent of the $4 billion they are owed in retroactive salaries, this year. The teachers are insisting that they be paid at least 50 per cent of the outstanding money.
Mr. Holness, however, pointed out that this is the first test in the Government’s binding fiscal responsibility legislation.
“We cannot do anything whatsoever to affect the fiscal deficit…Government has to demonstrate that it will be fiscally prudent in managing the affairs of the country,” he said.
Giving an overview of the strike, Chief Education Officer, Ms. Grace McLean, said that over 148 of primary and secondary schools were in operation, as 20 to 25 per cent of teachers turned up for work.
“These are teachers who went to school, signed in the register and were prepared to have classes. Some of them have been assisting with other activities on the schools’ compound, based on the low turn out of students,” she informed.
She also said that the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) music and physical education examinations started smoothly with no challenges. She noted, however, that another five per cent of schools, where students turned up for classes, classes were aborted because of the low turn out of teachers.
“We also have reports that two schools (in Region Six) were officially closed, and we have been making some interventions there to ensure that the administrative staff were present at school…We continue to collect as much information as is possible, and we hope to see a better turn out of our teachers and students tomorrow,” she said.
Mr. Holness noted that most high schools were opened and functional, except for the teaching of classes.
“Within the Corporate Area, particularly in Region One, we would have seen a much higher turn out than that in rural areas and that’s for two reasons: One, of course, is that schools, particularly at the primary level, would be smaller in number and far more dispersed. So you would expect to have a lower turn out there. In the urban areas where school sizes are larger, easier transport, people would turn up,” he explained.
Mr. Holness also informed that teachers met with the Minister of Labour and Social Security, the technical staff from the Ministries of Finance and the Public Service and the Ministry of Education to further discuss matters at the Ministry of Labour on Monday.
Lamenting that Jamaica lost “one day of educating our children,” Mr. Holness noted however that he was grateful to the teachers who turned out.
“I’m sure many of them used the time to do work that probably piled up on them, and we are also grateful, generally, that our exams were able to get off to a smooth start,” he said.
In terms of the reports of two schools being closed, he said that the Ministry will be investigating that, as instruction was given that no school should be closed and all the ancillary staff, the administrative staff and clerical staff should report to work.