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Gov't unsure about teacher payment

Published:Wednesday | April 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

Education Minister Andrew Holness has told teachers that Government was committed to paying them outstanding amounts agreed to, but could not say how much or when they would get paid.

Addressing the opening session of the ninth Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) education conference at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort and Spa in Ocho Rios, St Ann, yesterday, Holness explained that the agreement made with the JTA was made with the greatest intent to keep.

But, he said, the present fiscal circumstances made it almost impossible for Government to make concrete financial plans.

"The situation as it stands now is that the Government's revenue targets and our projections when we made that commitment do not hold and, therefore, I have to now manage your expectations of what is possible. Now, the commitment to pay still stands; the issue is when, how much and how," Holness told the audience of more than 500.

Last year, the Government made a commitment to pay the teachers outstanding amounts owed to them over a protracted period, starting in May, then July this year, and the balance in 2011 and 2012.

Allocation challenge

Holness explained that a pool of funds had been identified in the Budget to meet the entire public-sector wage bill, and the challenge now (for the Government) is how to allocate the pool among all the competing public-sector parties.

He said the timeline may still be possible but the amount agreed to was not guaranteed.

"We plan to bring together all the unions, sit down and have a discussion as to how this pool can be divided. So it is not that the teachers won't get anything, we just can't say how much you will get. It is still possible that we will be able to meet the timeline but I can't tell you we will be able to meet the amount."

And in a quick response to Holness' comments, JTA president Michael Stewart told reporters shortly after Holness had left the conference that the teachers were hopeful.

"We are quite hopeful, he seemed to have offered some hope to the teachers of Jamaica with the fact that he said that some payment will be made notwithstanding the amount of money to be paid," Stewart said.

The JTA president said teachers were now at a loss as to why payment had been outstanding for such a long time, and were "really hopeful" that some closure would be brought to the matter.

The three-day education conference, which focuses on 'Effective Middle Management in School', has brought together more than 500 principals, vice-principals, senior teachers and classroom teachers from across the island.

The group will be looking at several topics, including organisational structure for effective school management and leadership in a changing school environment, both of which were addressed on the opening day.