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JTA: We are still negotiating

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 22, 2018

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PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Georgia Waugh Richards yesterday emphasised that the island's teachers have still not accepted the Government's wage and benefits offer, and remain at the bargaining table.

Speaking to reports which surfaced on Tuesday that the JTA had resiled from the position it took on Monday to reject Government's offer following a meeting with the Ministry of Finance, Waugh Richards told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that what the teachers have accepted is an “advance payment” offered by the Government, not a retroactive payment.

She stressed that there is a marked distinction to be made between a retroactive payment, and advance payment. “We didn't sign an agreement. This advance payment would suggest something temporary, something in the interim, and that's what it is,” she insisted.

“We are not accepting the Government's offer so we are still negotiating. The items on the claim remain the same. Yesterday, we received communication in writing from the Ministry of Finance asking us to accept an interim advance payment owing to some budgetary issues — where this money that is currently available would not be available after the last day of March. So a letter was written to us asking us to accept an interim payment. The letter spoke specifically to an advance payment and stated clearly that this is without prejudice, and negotiations will continue,” Waugh Richards explained.

In his closing budget statement yesterday, Finance Minister Audley Shaw noted that the teachers and nurses have accepted the Government's offer to pay the five per cent retroactive back pay to April 2017, which is being treated as a “non-prejudicial advance payment which will in no way compromise our ongoing negotiations”. Shaw said he was urging the Jamaica Police Federation to also come on board by today.

The Government has argued that due to accounting principles tied to its International Monetary Fund-stipulated target of public sector wages not being more than nine per cent of GDP by 2019, if public sector workers do not accept the retroactive payments being offered now by March 31, they would have to wait until 2021 to receive those payments retroactive to 2017.

Meanwhile, Waugh Richards noted that there had been an improvement in the offer made to teachers at Monday's meeting, but would not divulge those details. “There was something new…the new thing that is on the table has nothing to do with a percentage. It's a new item,” she stated, noting that the JTA fully expects to be recalled to the bargaining table.

The JTA did not confirm or deny a report on Monday that 48 out of 88 members of its general council had voted against the Government's offer, which suggests a split in the organisation over the salary issue.

Some public sector groups have been up in arms over the retroactive payments, which has been argued as being thrust upon the workers without negotiations having concluded, as well as the extension in the negotiating period from the usual two years to four years. A negotiating cycles order under the Financial Administration and Audit Act, which was tabled by Finance Minister Audley Shaw in Parliament last week, outlined the four-year negotiating cycle for all employees of the Government, from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2021.

Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison said last week that a little less than half of public sector groups had signed the wage offer up to that point, while a number of other groups had “agreed”. The proposed increases in wages are five per cent in year one, two per cent in year two, four per cent in year three, and five per cent in year four.

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