La Sonja stands her ground

SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — Under-fire president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association La Sonja Harrison has come out in strong support of her members after the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) comments, earlier this week, that some of them may be misleading her in an ongoing tussle over salary-related issues.

“If every teacher should come out and tell their story Jamaica would be in for a rude awakening,” Harrison said.

She was speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Thursday at Sean Lavery Hall in Westmoreland, after giving teachers an update on issues including the recently completed compensation review.

“Just as how the ministry comes out and makes national pronouncements and comes and does PR [public relations] for the Government, the teachers’ story must be told and the president representing the union speaks the teachers’ story and so I do not need to be disingenuous in representing the teachers’ story,” stated Harrison.

She said she will not shy away from her duty of representing the country’s teachers despite the “backlash that comes with that”.

Choosing her words with care and speaking in a measured tone, Harrison — who said the Bible scripture Isaiah 54 verse 17 is being invoked over her life — made it clear that she does not want to engage in a tit for tat with the education ministry.

In a statement on Tuesday the ministry provided data it said disproved claims by president of the Westmoreland Chapter of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Kerry Ann Wolliston that one teacher had been paid $6.68. It also cited other cases that, it said, “show that Mrs Harrison is not getting the full and correct information in its entirety”.

The MOE cited the discrepancies it outlined as reasons to question any future calls for teachers to withdraw their services.

“It would appear that mischief abounds, and calls from Mrs Harrison to disrupt the education sector should be very carefully examined in light of the misinformation as demonstrated by these examples,” its statement said.

Efforts to get the JTA’s Wolliston’s response to the ministry’s claim that the $6.68 salary was “blatantly false” have been met with vague replies. However, she appeared to be suggesting that the numbers she provided were accurate. She did not supply supporting documents.

“I was elected to serve, and if my teachers are having issues and there is any way that I can help them, then as the parish president I believe that is my duty. If they trust me to serve them as their elected leader, that is what I’m going to do. I have to represent them in the best way I can; and if sometimes you represent them and persons may not be pleased with the information, [there is] nothing I can do as it’s the reality for many teachers. I would recommend that the ministry do a survey and identify the issues teachers are facing,” Wolliston told the Observer on Wednesday.