Sat | Jun 3, 2023

NWU issues notice of renewed unrest at two HEART institutions

Published:Monday | March 20, 2023 | 1:06 AM
Dr Taneisha Ingleton, managing director of the HEART/NSTA Trust.
Dr Taneisha Ingleton, managing director of the HEART/NSTA Trust.

The National Workers Union (NWU) has accused the HEART/NSTA Trust and the Ministry of Education of breaching the Labour Relations Code as it issued a notice of “renewed unrest” by workers at the Vocational Training Development Institute (VTDI) and National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET).

In a letter to Dr Taneisha Ingleton, managing director of the HEART/NSTA Trust, the union gave the state agency and the education ministry until midnight on March 20 to give a clear indication as to when the concerns of the workers will be addressed through dialogue with their unions.

NWU Island Supervisor Khurt Fletcher, who penned the March 16 letter, warned that failure to consult with “all parties involved” would cause the union to instruct employees to immediately withdraw labour, notice of which was previously given on December 1, 2022.

Fletcher charged that “recently, the HEART/NSTA Trust has made declarations, without consultations with any of the union partners or via any written channel to staff members. to state that: “Under directives of the Minister of Finance, HEART will end payment of NCTVET and VTDI salaries and will cease budgetary allocation for the entities on March 31, 2023”.

When our newsroom sought a response from Ingleton last week as to whether the agency still pays workers at NCTVET and the VTDI, the managing director first directed The Gleaner to speak with the permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.

However, she then said: “As a matter of fact, I would ask that the matters of NCTVET [and] VTDI be referred specifically to the Ministry of Education and Youth. That is exactly where these questions should be placed, not with us.”

Fletcher noted that the education ministry met with VTDI staff on March 8 and NCTVET employees on March 13, this year, indicating that workers from the agencies will be offered jobs at the ministry, starting April 1, 2023. However, he added, there are concerns that the employees would lose their tenure.

He also divulged that the ministry told workers that it will prepare job offer letters for signing by staff to ensure that they can be paid on April 24, 2023.

Fletcher charged that HEART/NSTA Trust has not “come to the unions or staff to formally indicate an intention to transfer staff as a going concern or terminate employment via redundancy exercise”.

He said neither the education ministry nor HEART has indicated to, or solicited input from, the unions or staff as to the proposed structure, positions or proposed salary scale for NCTVET and VTDI staff.

“We view these actions as a coordinated effort between both the [education ministry] and HEART/NSTA Trust to intimidate workers into signing away their rights by using economic uncertainty as leverage,” he added.

Arguing that the state training agency and the education ministry continue to be in breach of three tenets of the labour code, Fletcher said they appear “dead set on continuing to foster disharmony as it relates to the industrial relations between themselves and NCTVET staff”.

Fletcher highlighted some issues he claimed are still being disregarded as it relates to the NCTVET staff.

He said that employees on unbroken contracts have been designated as contract workers when, in principle, they are permanent employees.

He also pointed to what he termed discrimination between “contract workers” and “permanent employees”, in terms of the unequal benefits being offered to both groups.

Fletcher also pointed to “an alleged transfer of NCTVET from the HEART Trust to the Ministry of Education in 2018, in name only, with no legal framework supporting same”.