Strike jitters

Education Ministry taking pre-emptive action to keep schools functioning

BY KIMBERLY HIBBERT
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 12, 2018

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THE Ministry of Education, Youth and Information says it has put in place contingency plans to ensure the safety and security of school communities in the event of industrial action by the island's public school teachers this week.

In a press statement yesterday, Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid said that in order to ensure that all schools across the island will be effectively manned during this period, a plan of action had already been effected.

He said Regional Response Teams (RRTs) comprising officers from the Education Ministry, select tertiary institutions, secondary schools student bodies, and the National Parent Teachers' Association of Jamaica were being briefed and placed on standby to take charge of classes as of today for the duration of the school day.

Fears of industrial action by the teachers heightened after the Jamaica Teacher's Association (JTA) rejected the Government's wage increase offer of 16 per cent over four years and declared that teachers would not accept the one-year retroactive payment to be made this month, as no agreement had been reached and negotiations were still in progress.

JTA President Georgia Waugh-Richards further accused the Government of union-busting and said if payments were made this month it would be a breach of their collective bargaining rights.

Obviously nervous about a possible strike, Minister Reid said that, in such an eventuality, when the school day ends students will be sent home with an advisory from their school board indicating whether or not school would reopen the next day.

The contingency is being put in place for 760 primary, all-age primary and junior high schools, and 171 high schools.

Additionally, parents with students at special education schools and departments, as well as infant schools and infant departments, would be alerted through the media, telephone calls, and the schools' SMS/text messaging service to collect their children at school as soon as they were advised of the industrial action.

He said that in the event of industrial action, such parents would be asked to keep their children at home for the period.

In the meantime, Reid said training for the Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education (APSE) programme, principal leadership training, and all meetings scheduled for today with education ministry officers have been postponed.

Generation 2000 (G2K), the young professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), made an impassioned plea to teachers not to strike during the current exam preparation period.

Stephen Edwards, G2K president said while he acknowledged that it was the right of the JTA to determine whenever it wants to call for industrial action, the best interest of students must be paramount.

“While we understand the teachers are bargaining to get a well-deserved increase, we also understand that in order for the grouping to get more pay the Government would have to impose new revenue measures, which could potentially include new taxes. We appeal to our nation's teachers to think about the children who need their tutelage and guidance, especially at this critical time,” said Edwards.

He added: “Many children have only one chance at success at the various levels. And, sadly, they would be the ones who pay the true price of any industrial action by the teachers. We are appealing to the JTA to be considerate of that fact.”

The JLP political youth group further called on the unions to remain in dialogue with the Government as the best place to resolve wage disputes was at the bargaining table.

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