TEACHERS HANG TOUGH
A proposal for a freeze of income tax from the salaries of teachers for the next two financial years received the most support yesterday as members of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) debated the Government's seven per cent wage offer.
With militant teachers adamant that they would not accept the current wage offer, the income-tax freeze was voiced as one of the few measures which could be put on the table for the seven per cent over two years to be even considered.
During a marathon special delegates' conference called by the JTA at the Karl Hendrickson Auditorium at Jamaica College in St Andrew, the teachers also rejected what they described as a "Nicodemus late-night phone call" from the Government's chief negotiator, Horace Dalley, upping the book, software and technology allowance.
The JTA is seeking 15 per cent in year one (2015-2016), and 10 per cent in year two (2016-2017).
"The results are as follows: A total of 315 ballots were registered. There was one spoilt vote, 71 voted to accept and 243 voted to reject," announced JTA President Doran Dixon at 2:40 p.m., 40 minutes after delegates were issued ballots to votes.
"On Monday, we will communicate the decision of the delegates to the minister of finance and we are going to demand an urgent meeting to continue these negotiations. We accept the results, and we move forward, full speed ahead. The struggle continues," were Dixon's final words to the conference.
Close to 500 delegates were expected to attend the conference and more than 400 were in attendance, representing 78 district associations of the JTA, which represents some 24,000 teachers and principals.
However, with or without Dalley's call offering to increase the book, software and technology allowance from $141,000 to $171,000 in the first year and from $147,000 to $177,000 in the second year, it seemed the die was cast long before the teachers assembled to consider the offer and vote.
After a patient, three-hour presentation of the current offer to the teachers by Dixon, teacher after teacher who spoke, many leaders in the various district associations of the JTA, made their intentions clear.
Dixon listened as delegates vented, sought clarification and urged other delegates to vote "right". Speaking in clear, unhindered, and calm voices, they urged the Government to find more money.
"We have been in continuous dialogue with the Government's chief negotiator, the Honourable Horace Dalley, and we negotiate hard, but with respect," said Dixon, prior to the vote.
Asked if the percentage increase was the only sticking point in the negotiations, Dixon said: "The entire package is rejected."
Among the already agreed positions now rejected by the teachers is duty allowance, which was to increase by $2,000 in the first year and a further $1,000 in the second year.
The JTA is seeking a $30,000 increase in the first year and a further $30,000 increase in the second year.
A 100 per cent increase, from $750 to $1,500 in special duty allowance, was also an agreed position. This is an allowance for national events.
The Ministry of Education has also agreed to the appointment of one teacher qualified in physical education, music, visual arts and information technology in primary schools, and a technology integration specialist for all schools.
The JTA wants, and the ministry has supported, payment for unutilised casual and vacation leave, the assignment of plant managers for schools with enrolment in excess of 800 students, and that $10 million be made available for the professional development of teachers.
The teachers body is also asking for 10 social workers to be assigned in each of the ministry's regional offices; that sixth-form teachers who teach 50 or more per cent of their classes at that level be remunerated at the level in the lecturer's scale; a special administrative allowance be paid to principal in the schools with enrolment in excess of 300 students; administrative leave for vice-principals in off-site campuses; and the right to reopen negotiations.