Uncertainty looms over schools - Teachers hint at industrial action as new term begins
Jamaica faces an uncertain start to the new school term today as teachers continue to hint at industrial action to press their demand for a better wage offer from the Government.
Efforts to get a definitive position from the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) yesterday were met with stony silence as usually vocal sources pointed The Gleaner to a New Year's message released yesterday by its president, Georgia Waugh Richards.
In the message, Waugh Richards noted that this is a crucial term in the island's educational structure, as most national examinations are done or begin during this term and urged the teachers to imprint success upon the future of those in their charge.
She also encouraged the teachers to be mindful of looking after themselves while taking care of the children, and to strategise so that they not only work and forget to play.
"We all know what happens when Jack works and does not play. On the matter of play, we must set aside finances to help us to engage in recreational activities. But in order to do this, we must first have access to funds," said Waugh Richards.
The JTA president told the teachers that during the latest round of negotiations last Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance gave favourable consideration to some outstanding items of the teachers' claim, but the six per cent wage offer over two years was not addressed.
"The Action Committee of the JTA is on high alert. We are adamant that Jamaica's teachers must be properly compensated for their labour of love," the president said in an warning that followed similar hints from late last year of possible industrial action.
"I cannot overemphasise the need for unity," she said, in a seemingly coded clarion call to public-school teachers to take action as a single entity.
Last week, information officers at the education ministry told The Gleaner that Education Minister Ruel Reid would not comment on the possibility of industrial action by the teachers.
However, the leadership of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) has indicated that there could be widespread "sickness" across the public sector come this week if the outcome of today's Cabinet meeting for wage increases is not favourable.
"If the Government does not signal to us something that we can take back to the workers, we cannot guarantee that there will be normalcy. We cannot guarantee that come next week teachers will be turning out or remain on the job, we cannot guarantee that there will not be more sickness across the public sector because people are just falling ill based on the fact that they're physically stressed because the Government is not treating them properly," said JCTU Vice-President O'Neil Grant during a media briefing.