The decision and actions taken by the Jamaican government to restructure the public sector compensation system comprehensively, were said to be underpinned by a philosophy and an ideology that would result in a revised pay policy. This compensation policy should be simple, consistent, predictable, sustainable, and deliberately designed to result in the transformation of the public sector. Studies revealed that public bodies were below market value ranging from 50% to 60%. A report also suggested that compensation in the education sector, with consolidation of allowances, should move to 86.2% of market value. This compensation review was proposed for the 2017-2021 contract period and led to a 4-year wage freeze for public sector workers despite the current economic downturn, inflation and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was promised that no worker would be worse off as a result of the transformation exercise and all workers would be pleased with the new pay package.
However, this was not the case for many public sector bodies as there were numerous demonstrations and strikes as workers were unhappy with the proposed packages. Unfortunately, teachers, who are represented by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), were not excluded from this great disappointment. The JTA, in the public’s mind, had the perfect opportunity to “push” the Jamaican government to reward the teachers with a “liveable wage”, but the end results of the negotiations indicated otherwise, as once again the teaching profession was treated as insignificant when compared to other professions. It is the view of several teachers that they have, for many years, been neglected and overlooked in their remuneration packages and some to this day still feel the same way as the magnitude of their jobs is not aligned with their salaries.
In addition to these issues, their union representative, the JTA, has been seemingly powerless in its proposals and negotiation for better salary packages for teachers. From the outside looking in, JTA seems to be more of a political entity rather than a union that carries out effective negotiations for its members. As a result, this makes it extremely difficult for effective negotiations to take place, as well as to win the trust of teachers who would have been already aware of the political stigma.
After careful analysis, several missed opportunities were recognised. For the purpose of this article we will examine three missed opportunities: JTA’s Negotiation Approach, Teachers with Post of Special Responsibilities (POSRs), and teachers with higher degrees (Masters and PhDs). Each will be delineated below.
JTA’s Negotiation Approach
In this negotiation process, the JTA appeared to have been taken by surprise by the government in what can be described as a “Nicodemus” approach. This approach, based on past happenings usually results in wage negotiations being signed without teachers getting a full understanding of the intricacies of the offers presented to them. From the JTA’s standpoint they are privy to the details of the education system and should, by now, be better able to approach the negotiation table with a stronger footing and a more united front on behalf of the teachers. In contrast, what happened was that the JTA and its delegates were left scurrying in the end trying to make last minute decisions on the deals presented to them by the government. The JTA’s approach can be seen as reactive rather than proactive. Efforts were made by them to propose a possible basic salary payment for all teachers; however, those efforts were not enough for the swift actions taken by the government. In the end, after all the wait and anxious moments the difference between the last two offers proposed by the government to teachers was a mere daily increase of seventy-four Jamaican dollars (JMD74) i.e. USD forty-eight cents ($0.48), which the JTA in its haste agreed to accept. It is safe to say, the JTA, having years of experience in the process of negotiations should have been better prepared this time around.
Teachers with Post of Special Responsibilities (POSRs)
After the negotiations, teachers with a Post of Special Responsibilities (POSRs) and new graduates entering the teaching profession were all placed on the same band, that is band 4. If teachers with POSRs are seen as middle managers, playing a critical role in the daily operations of schools, the question to be asked is: “How can they be placed in the same band as newly trained graduates?” Regardless of the scale point difference within the band, a teacher who supervises another should not be in the same band as the teachers they supervise. To further solidify the point, some responsibilities of a teacher with POSRs include: heading committees / departments, mentoring new teachers, and ensuring that all school activities are carried out successfully. At present, teachers with POSRs only receive an allowance which does not align with the magnitude of work as well as their linear responsibilities. This disposition not only undermines the post, but also may not motivate teachers to take these positions.
Teachers with Higher Degrees (Masters and PhDs)
Band 4 is whitewashed as “trained graduate”: This whitewashed approach to band 4 takes into account teachers with a first degree, Masters and PhDs. Irrespective of their qualification level, teachers are automatically placed on band 4. This eludes all logics of matriculation and upward mobility with the use of education and also highlights a great irony within the education system. It is safe to say that teachers who would have made great efforts to increase their academic qualifications are not currently being properly compensated. Even though the government has made an effort to fix the situation by proposing to pay an allowance for higher degrees in the year 2024, the reality is that a level of misunderstanding, confusion, and lack of insight on the Government’s side is evident. It must be noted that upgrading is an avenue used by the public sector, especially teachers, to improve their craft, by investing in themselves and inadvertently in the education system. In essence, teachers should benefit from the education system when they upgrade and vice versa.
The following recommendations were carefully considered for each missed opportunity discussed above. It is believed that if these recommendations are considered then some of the gruelling concerns expressed by teachers currently can be remedied.
JTA’s Negotiation Strategy
Going forward, the affairs of teachers must be dealt with meticulously and should be approached from an angle that provides good judgment. It is therefore recommended that the JTA must be prepared, if possible, with their own compensation package; one that is realistic and seeks to address all the nuisances that are within the education system. This suggested compensation package should be shared with its delegates who will in turn share it with all the members for feedback. This approach will therefore be proactive and will allow them to be better able to negotiate at the table rather than being caught off guard. The 2022/2023 wage negotiations for teachers revealed some valuable insights that should be used to improve future negotiation outcomes for teachers. In a few months, JTA and the Jamaican Government will again be seated across the negotiation table. The JTA is urged to act upon this recommendation as they now have ample time to prepare and adjust strategies as they seek to represent teachers.
Teachers with Post of Special Responsibilities (POSRs)
Teachers with a Post of Special Responsibilities (POSRs) are the pillars in our schools. As such, they must be adequately compensated for the duties they perform. Similar to the distinction on the band between Principals and Vice Principal, as well as Vice Principals and teachers with POSRs, there ought to be a distinction between teachers with POSRs and junior teachers. Therefore, it is imperative that in the next negotiation, the JTA must negotiate for these teachers to be placed on a higher band, so that their duties and salaries can be aligned. This recommendation will also improve teacher morale and productivity among teachers with a Post of Special Responsibilities (POSRs).
Teachers with higher degrees (Masters and PhDs)
It is recommended that teachers with higher degrees be placed on a higher band. Similarly to the distinction on the band with a trained graduate and a teacher with a diploma, there needs to be a distinction between teachers with a first degree and that of higher degrees. Each degree earned should allow a teacher upward mobility on the band. This recommendation would see a spill-off effect on the education system and society in general. It would encourage more teachers to take on higher education opportunities which would now increase university enrolments and enrich the education sector as teachers would have elevated their craft. In addition, moving these teachers to higher bands will also help to retain some of the most qualified teachers within the sector and the country. This recommendation is highly anticipated in the upcoming salary negotiation process.
Based on the review provided above, we can conclude that this negotiation process had several missed opportunities that resulted in some teachers being short-changed. In future, the JTA ought to take into account the issues that have surfaced in an effort to make good on the promise of its motto, “Unite and serve”.
The views expressed are those of the authors, who are members of PEMCA, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of the PEMCA organization