JTA Stages First President-elect Debate

JTA Stages First President-elect Debate

Publication Date: 
Monday, July 20, 2020

Godfrey Drummond (right), a senior teacher at Petersfield Primary and Infant School in Westmoreland, and principal of Golden Spring Primary in St Andrew, Winston Smith, at the Jamaica Teachers’ Association's debate for president-elect candidates. The first-time event was held on July 17, 2020 - Contributed photo

The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) on Thursday held a debate for president-elect candidates for the first time, which saw the contenders discussing crucial education issues and defending their manifesto items. 

Godfrey Drummond, a senior teacher at Petersfield Primary and Infant School in Westmoreland, and principal of Golden Spring Primary in St Andrew Winston Smith are vying to become president-elect for the 2020-21 administrative year.

During the 90-minute debate, held at the JTA’s WBC (Ben) Hawthorne Conference Room in Kingston, the candidates agreed that teachers need to be educated on their rights and responsibilities in the classroom, in addition to being paid equally, regardless of subject disciplines. 

Drummond suggested that more contact teachers be trained and that the role be incentivised as a means of encouraging teachers to recruit their fellow educators to join the JTA, which currently has 25,000 members.

Smith concurred but argued that the “high level of apathy” among teachers is because of failed promises by previous JTA presidents. 

One of Drummond’s intentions is to increase the health coverage of teachers through private and public partnerships, and another is to extend benefits into retirement. 

“The fact that teaching has become such a stressful job, we find that a number of our constituents are developing lifestyle illnesses ... .At retirement, even though the teachers are not under our care, that is the time they need the health benefits more than ever,” he asserted. 

Given the harsh economic climate, Smith argued that Drummond’s plan would be impractical as it would have to apply to all public-sector workers and not just educators.

He also noted that teachers are more concerned about critical-illness coverage, which is not included in the current plan. 

High on Smith’s manifesto items is to have the salaries of teachers reclassified to 100 per cent of the market. 

He explained that removal of a pension, a reduction in study leave allocation, and paid holidays are the three major issues that cause the teachers to be paid at 80 per cent of the market. 

“We are gonna go in a united manner to the Ministry of Finance and say, 'This was what you used to place us at 80. You have taken it away from us; therefore, we need to be realigned and placed at 100 per cent of market and, if possible, 120 because the teachers need houses, Mr Drummond,” he stated. 

The senior teacher countered his opponent and reminded him of his earlier statement about making realistic proposals. 

“I don’t see where the Government is going to meet us at 100 per cent,” he said before recommending that those negotiations begin with a five or 10 per cent increase. 

The licensing of teachers; teaching in a digital environment; violence in schools; salaries of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers; accountability; and the functions of the association were among the topics discussed. 

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