Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) is being scolded for the manner in which it is handling the wage negotiations with the Government.

Following multiple teacher sit-ins, sick-outs and protests last week, Morin Seymour, former executive director of Kingston Restoration Company and chairman of the board of governors of Central Branch Primary School, said the JTA continues to shoot itself in the foot by not having a clear and enthralling voice of command amidst its demands.

“I’ve been looking at it. The difficulty I have is that the tail looks like it is wagging the dog. The JTA must lead with clarity,” Seymour told the Jamaica Observer.

“It ricochets and then the thing rolls back in indiscipline all the way back to the students. Teachers go on strike and the students are on the street running up and down the place. It can’t work so. I am calling for a strong JTA leadership; one that is definite about what they’re doing. What I see now is weakness all around,” he continued.

Two Fridays ago teachers at St Elizabeth Technical High School staged a protest, accusing the JTA of poorly lobbying on their behalf in the wage negotiations with the Government.

The protest spread last Monday to BB Coke High and Maggotty High, both in St Elizabeth. By Tuesday, teachers at other schools across the country joined the action, most dressed in black and staging sit-ins. Some protested in front of the Ministry of Finance building in Kingston.

The Sunday Observer understands that there were several virtual consultations on Saturday with teachers aimed at providing an update on the Government’s latest salary offer.

“In the old days, the leadership of the JTA spoke with clarity and authority and one could understand where they were. Up to this point, I’m not sure I understand what they are about. Their position is not clear, and in fact, what happened this past week, I saw individual units across the island striking,” Seymour told the Sunday Observer.

Admittedly, he said the JTA does have a case, but was adamant that the said case hasn’t been clearly articulated for the wider population.

“And so, that’s a difficulty. I haven’t seen it and I think that is the difficulty that everybody has. We can all negotiate for more, but we must be clear about what it is we negotiate for.”

One of Seymour’s main contentions is that when it comes to the association, every teacher cannot be championing individual causes.

“That’s why they have an organisation called the JTA. What I saw last week was that every school was leading. That’s a difficulty. If they were clear, then the Government could respond and say, ‘It’s possible or no, it’s not possible.’ But you can’t respond to nothing,” Seymour said.

Last Monday, Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke told the Observer that the total retroactive compensation provided for teachers in the third and fourth supplementary estimates is approximately $12 billion.

“To put this figure into context, it exceeds the total increase for the entire public sector for each the years 2020/21, 2019/20, 2018/19, 2016/17, 2015/16, 2014/15, 2013/14, 2012/13, and 2011/12. In fact, the increase to teachers over this public sector restructuring exercise exceeds the aggregate combined increase to teachers over the last 10 years,” Dr Clarke said.

On Saturday, Rev Herro Blair Jr, director of Jamaica Youth for Christ, told the Sunday Observer that an important question to answer amid the wage negotiations is: “What do the teachers deserve?”

“I don’t hear anybody talking about that. How do we determine what people deserve? How do we determine what is necessary? In the same breath, we want people to understand the Government can only spend so much. The Government only has so much money. But then, the Government is going to tell us, well, they have to pay the permanent secretaries and everybody else what they deserve, or otherwise, they will lose them to foreign countries and other people,” he said.

Blair Jr, who is also pastor of Gateway Deliverance Centre in Spanish Town which meets at Jonathan Grant High School, said it’s an identical issue.

“It’s the same problem for teachers and others who are deserving of a higher salary, and when they are not paid what they deserve we end up losing them to Cayman, Barbados, America, Canada, and the UK. The problem is, we’re not seeing what the Government is asking of the teachers at the top level.”

Last Wednesday, delegates rejected the Government’s compensation package at a JTA special conference at The Mico University College in St Andrew.

According to the JTA, 578 delegates voted, with 346 voting to reject the offer, 227 voting to accept, while one ballot was rejected and four ballots spoilt.

A day after, the JTA urged teachers across the island who were engaged in protests to return to their “regular duties” on Friday, March 10.

“The Jamaica Teachers’ Association notes the actions of our colleagues across the island to register their displeasure regarding the current salary package on offer from the Ministry of Finance and Public Service. We understand the frustration,” the JTA said in a statement.

The JTA further indicated that it will be writing to the Ministry of Finance outlining the outcome of the meeting, seeking an improved offer and requesting a return to the bargaining table.

Meanwhile, Seymour said if the association is going to demand a 10 per cent pay increase for teachers it must know where the 10 per cent is coming from.

“Where is it going to come from? It wasn’t so long ago that the economy literally fell off the cliff. So, look at it from the Government standpoint; what the Government is trying to do is to meet everybody halfway, whether it is teachers or police or health care workers. At the same time, they have to keep the thing in balance,” he reasoned.

Otherwise, he added, “you will end up like Haiti. You can’t afford that kind of luxury for your economy to fall down. So, people have to negotiate knowing that there is a limit to what you can do today.”

Seymour told the Sunday Observer that the JTA should “calculate the cost” of what the union is claiming and at the end of the month, go back to the Government with the request.

“Go to the Government and say, ‘You’re paying me $1 and I want $1.10’. And the Government will say, ‘I can give you $1.08 and here’s the reason I can only give you $1.08.’ You need strong leadership. I think we’re missing that right now. Maybe it’s there, but I don’t see it.

“I come from a life insurance background… If you can’t calculate the cost, then it is not worthwhile. Once you can calculate the cost, then you can decide whether the cost is feasible. And by feasibility, I mean whether you can do it or not. Everybody just can’t be picking something. It’s a big thing. It’s a large body of people so you’re dealing with large numbers. A one per cent movement is billions,” Seymour said.

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