JTA awaiting finance ministry update on new wage structure

JAMAICA Teachers’ Association (JTA) President LaSonja Harrison says the island’s public school educators are eagerly awaiting a formal update from the Ministry of Finance, promised by tomorrow, regarding the Government’s position on the concerns of the fraternity over the compensation scheme for the public sector.

Harrison and her team met with technocrats in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service on Tuesday, and is slated to meet with the union’s membership to discuss the way forward.

“We met and we continued to speak on the matters pertaining to the teachers transition to this new compensation, this new wage structure and we engaged further clarification, and we are awaiting a written response from the Ministry of Finance as to their position to us at this time,” the JTA president told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

However, she declined to divulge the current state of the wage talks given the delicate nature of the negotiations.

“It would not be wise of us to so do so. Until we receive that written communication promised to us, then we are not able to speak further,” she said.

Teachers and the Jamaica Constabulary Force are the two major public sector groups for which negotiations under the Government’s new compensation scheme have not yet been finalised. Last month, the finance ministry paid out $30.4 billion to 60,000 central Government employees in back pay, and new salaries, which was due under agreements with the various unions, which took effect on April 1.

Harrison indicated that teachers are anxious to reach an agreement, but not at all costs: “We are aware that our members want us to close as soon as possible, but I do believe they equally want us to be diligent and to remain surgical in our approach to ensure that we reduce any or most, if not all of the anomalies that would certainly not work out to their benefit in the long run, so while we work with urgency, we are also going to be doing the due diligence and ensure that we take the time that is needed to ensure that the best possible situation is worked out for all teachers.”

Last week Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke told the Observer that the Government wants to take the third supplementary estimates — to make way for the payment of salary arrears due to the remaining public sector workers — to Parliament in a few weeks.

“My hope is that we will be in a position to table and pass the third supplementary estimates by the end of January to put us in a position where the back pay that will become due, upon agreement with remaining groups, can be paid prior to the end of the fiscal year,” he said.

Clarke stressed that for the Government, this anticipated timeline for tabling the estimates and making the payments, is challenging, as the 2023/24 national budget is to be tabled shortly after.

“However, it is fiscally necessary as we cannot carry these large obligations into the next fiscal year without either jeopardising fiscal targets or delaying other critical expenditure,” he stated.

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