In light of the state of the current wage negotiations between the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) and the Government, Opposition spokesperson on Education, Damion Crawford says the People’s National Party is very concerned over the Government’s inability to reach a level of consensus with the teachers.
Crawford was speaking during a virtual press conference at the party’s headquarters in St Andrew earlier today (March 8).
“The teachers in the country are now being bullied, in our opinion, by the Government with half-truths and baseless accusations that has become the key indicators of negotiations that’s being held without good faith,” Crawford said.
Teachers at several schools across Jamaica are currently protesting the proposed new compensation structure, which has led to the disruption of classes.
“As the teachers continue to lobby for no less that a livable wage, we encourage them not to be swayed by untruthful statements being posited by the Government, that if the agreement isn’t reached by mid-March then the Government will not be able to make payments lump sum of the back monies owed to the teachers,” Crawford said.
He also argued that Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke and the Government are quite aware that there are simple remedies, to the situation, which have been used for decades, including by the current minister.
“Firstly, the ministry and the minister should and could place funds currently available in escrow which is facilitated by the law. This essentially states that all funds must be spent in the year budgeted except as is provided by law which an escrow should qualify. It will mean therefore that the funds currently held by the Government could be placed from this Budget 2022-2023 into escrow and have no impact on the Budget 2023-2024,” Crawford said.
He continued: “Additionally, the minister can place the funds within a designated contingency within the 2023-2024 Budget to be disseminated at the point of agreement, whenever that is. This has been used time and time again within our budgetary allocations when there is known negotiations to be taking placing.”
The third point made by Crawford was that the Government could put a supplementary budget in place.
“Finally, we could always have an inducement of a supplementary budget with allocations and reallocations as necessary. This was done four times last year by this same minister and multiple times before by this same ministry. So, this again is another example of Government badness. We are asking the teachers not to be swayed by this effort to leverage their current financial circumstances.”
Crawford said the PNP was in support of the teachers and willing to provide assistance if needed.
“The People’s National Party is willing to commit to teachers and members of the public sector, to offer whatever legal services that are necessary, if they are being unfairly and unduly treated by the Government, which have multiple options to have negotiation in good faith and have the sums available for lump sum payments if it is so desired.”
According to Crawford, the current gross salary of a teacher, when considering their basic salary, special teacher allowance and books and software allowances is $182,941. This means that, after deductions, their net salary is $151,596 per month.
“What is being proposed is $174,000. So, simple mathematics suggests that what they are recommending means that the teachers will receive a measly $23,000 more. Now we’ve seen where teachers indicate that this salary is insufficient for their current living expenses. Teachers are finding it hard to survive with their current salary!”
He said the removal of most benefits that used to exist is one of the reasons for the actual take-home pay being a point of consideration for the teachers.
“The teachers have also made it clear that the Government seems to be unaware and incapable to understand how people analyse their salaries. And here we are already facing a problem of losing our classroom teachers to overseas entities and now we are going to be losing our teachers in admin activities because of that gap.”
Crawford recommended that the Government increase teachers’ salaries to afford them a more livable wage.
“The PNP recommends that the gross salary for a teacher be no less than $291,000, which means their net salary would be $212,430. If this is done for the almost 20,000 teachers, that would mean an additional $19 billion to the Budget, which the Government can afford,” said Crawford.