Thu | Dec 7, 2023

'Only God can help us'

JTA bemoans non-payment of some March salaries as teachers head into long Easter holiday weekend

Published:Friday | April 7, 2023 | 12:13 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica Teachers Association President La Sonja Harrison.

The leadership of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) is peeved that up to Thursday, several public school educators had not received their March salaries which were due three weeks ago.

Traditionally, teachers are paid early salaries in March, usually mid-month.

JTA President La Sonja Harrison The Gleaner on Thursday that she had received a list of teachers who are yet to receive last month's salary from the Government.

“There is a teacher, in particular, I am not sure what is holding up her situation … . She is on leave, ... she did surgery the week before last and she is in need of her pay, and today she has not got her salary,” Harrison complained.

The JTA head said that she has reached out to senior personnel in the Ministry of Education to ascertain what was holding up the payments, but she was not satisfied with the response.

“We are entering into a long holiday period and for persons to be without salary, I don't know what they expect the teachers to be doing, but if anybody truly cares about that is another matter,” she said.

After months of negotiations and refusing previous offers, public school teachers voted overwhelmingly to accept the Government's proposal under the compensation restructuring initiative on Sunday, March 12. They signed a deal with the Ministry and Finance and the Public Service the following day.

In his contribution to the Budget Debate on March 21, Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke said that despite the late signing of some agreements, the Government's “fragmented and decentralised payroll system will be working overtime” for the majority of public sector workers to be paid before the end of March or shortly thereafter.

On Thursday, Harrison pointed out that there was brewing discontent among senior teachers, who have the responsibility of preparing students for local and overseas exams, as many are feeling demotivated by the salaries they received in March after the adjustments.

“For some people, the money that they see, they are depressed and demotivated,” she stressed.

The JTA president said that the senior teachers are discouraged in light of a number of anomalies following the restructuring of the wage scheme.

“Based on the discrepancies arising at this time and coming to the fore, it is overall a really sad situation … . What is still on offer is still not the best for the nation builders of this country,” Harrison noted.

She argued that teachers have been treated with scant regard, adding that their worth has been devalued for many years.

Harrison also told The Gleaner that the country is still grappling with a teacher shortage, noting that she was informed last week that an institution had 11 vacancies in the second term of the academic year.

“The ministry has been behaving as if all things are well, but the schools are just trying to do the best they can,” said the JTA head.

She added that Jamaicans must decide on the quality of education that they need for their children and question the state of the education system locally. 

She noted that if there are plans to reduce the size of classrooms to a ratio of one teacher to 25 students, such efforts could be hindered by the exodus of teachers from Jamaica to other jurisdictions.

“If you can't replace the teachers who have gone, you have to continue with the business of teaching and learning, so what is going to be the next option?” Harrison questioned.

“We need God. That's all I know. Only God can help us,” she said.