‘Politically criminal’

Publication Date: 
Friday, July 8, 2022

Paul Adams, principal of Herbert Morrison High School, addresses attendees of the JTA Golden Torch Awards ceremony at The Jamaica Pegasus on Thursday. He was among 177 teachers honoured.
Accusing the Holness administration of depriving teachers of their designated vacation leave entitlement, firebrand educator and trade unionist Paul Adams has described the practice as “administratively and politically criminal”.

But Education Minister Fayval Williams has shot back, disputing Adams' claims as untrue.

Adams, principal of Herbert Morrison High and former Jamaica Teachers' Association president, charged that the authorities have breached the Education Regulations by approving vacation leave for only two per cent of a school's teaching staff at any one time despite the rules allowing for up to a 10 per cent ratio.

Teachers are entitled to four months' leave after five years of service and eight months after working for 10 years. But Adams said Thursday that the bureaucracy was restricting leave approvals, forcing some educators to delay vacations for nine to 15 years without redress.

The 35-year veteran said “there is a calculated plot between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance”.

“We the teachers, you don't know if we are ill, because we don't show it, you don't know if we are feeling pain. God in heaven, you don't know if we are dying, and we go out there and we work and we work,” Adams said at the Jamaica Teachers' Association's Golden Torch Awards at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

“Arthritis, 'neckritis', 'footritis' all over, trials and tribulations, and when the five or six years come, we can't get we four months' leave,” he added.

But Williams, when contacted Thursday, challenged Adams' assertion that only two per cent of the teaching cohort had leave applications approved.

“I know over the years it has been anywhere from five to seven per cent, and this year, I know it's going to be five per cent of the teachers who are eligible for long leave,” Williams said in a Gleaner interview.

“I don't know the composition of the number of schools from which the teachers would come, but the schools themselves would send in the request because obviously, the schools would have to look at their staffing needs because we have to have replacement teachers for all who are going out on their four months or eight months leave, but I don't have the composition of the schools. It's driven by eligibility,” she said.

The minister further noted that she was not aware of a backlog from application denials but indicated that she would be prepared to discuss the matter with the JTA leadership.

But she was insistent that ministry calculations were compliant with the law.

Williams stressed, however, that budget implications had to be considered.

Adams, in his appeal, advised the ministries to “cut the foolishness about money”, arguing that teachers' health and wellness should not be sacrificed on the altar of financial prudence.

“It can't work. We are going to die one by one,” he said, adding that he had bought two walking sticks because of the extension of the retirement age to 65.

Adams was among 177 dedicated teachers awarded Thursday for more than 30 years of service.

Outgoing JTA President Winston Smith joined in Adams' chorus, noting that he, too, has been lobbying about the grievance for some time. He said he intended to formally address the authorities on the matter before he demits office.

Smith said that the issue is driving many teachers out of the profession.

“It is a great injustice to the teachers of Jamaica. It's a travesty. As a matter of fact, if could find another asinine term to describe it I would because here we have teachers teaching for years without leave,” he said.

Smith said the qualification process for leave should be revisited, noting that teachers must work consistently for five years without a break to get their four-month entitlement. That perquisite does not trip in again until another five-year period.

“If a teacher applies after 10 years and doesn't get the leave, any number of years after is going to waste because it's only eight months, even if you apply after serving 30 years, so 20 years would have gone to waste,” the JTA president said.

He is insisting that the regulation guidelines be revised for vacation leave to be accessible every year.

Smith said that urgent legislative change might be a fix for the problem.

“And if we can't change the law to make it happen, then pay the teachers for the unused years or put that amount as a pushback so you have it to use again, and don't just wipe it off,” he said.

“There must be something, but to not give the teachers [anything] and not make any change is really cruel.”

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