Salary slackness

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, November 2, 2022

SEVERAL teachers across the island are livid after not being paid for the past two months. A number of the teachers have told the Jamaica Observer that they are yet to receive their salaries for September and October and have dismissed claims by the Ministry of Education that the reason for the delay in the payments was because some documents were submitted late and did not meet the cut-off for payroll periods. President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) LaSonja Harrison told the Observer on Tuesday that the ministry keeps making the argument about late submission of documentation which is not an acceptable explanation.

"If the documentation [for] September went in late, it would mean that you must be on the payroll for October. Why are you not on it for October? I can't understand. So even if the documentation was late, because that is one of the reasons espoused, to say the principal would not have submitted the documentation early enough in September, but by October, you should be paid, because you would've been very early for October," argued Harrison. She questioned whether " the document from September is going on a snail's back to the ministry?" Harrison said the situation is very frustrating for teachers because they are not getting much money, "and for you not to get paid and expected to go to work every day and you have your own business spoiling". The JTA president charged that there is a perennial problem of teachers who are not paid for several months, with "even persons who have been in school for two, three years, all of a sudden they just drop off the ministry's payroll".

At one Corporate Area school, one of the 12 teachers who have not been paid since September told the Observer that she does not accept the ministry's explanation. The 28-year-old teacher, who has been with the institution for two years, says through her own checks she learnt that her documents for September were submitted late because the ministry has a cut-off point for each month's salary, which is the 14th of each month. She said she accepted this explanation and so was expecting a double salary in October, however, her account is still empty. "So, for September, the ministry had no compassion, admin had no compassion to give anything, but we were expected to show up for work, show up on time, have breakfast, lunch, dinner, feed my child, take care of my family. For the month of October, waiting patiently with debts, with outstanding bills, and I say, alright I'm going to get paid for October. Come October, no pay," the teacher said dejectedly.

"This slackness at the ministry has been an ongoing one. I've made several social media posts, and I've had veteran teachers complain…teachers have continuously gone months without salary, and within that time, we have received no hand-me-downs from anybody, but we are expected to fulfil every single obligation that we have both professional wise and personal wise. It's a lot," she added. The passionate young educator, who has been teaching for over seven years, said she has had this experience more than four times during her tenure at various schools. "This is my fourth school. So, it is a fact that the issue is not with the institutions themselves but with who is paying us. The salary department of the Ministry of Education is completely slack and not being held accountable. Years on top of years, on top of years [this has been happening] and I really and truly believe that it needs to come to a stop because the teaching profession is from where every other profession comes," she fumed. Her colleague, a 62-year-old veteran educator who has been teaching for more that 25 years locally and overseas, has also not seen a cent since September. He says when he enquired, he was told that he needed to submit a specific form — referred to as a 503 Form — in order for his salary to be processed.

"I'm in a position that is vacant from May, and I got paid. I didn't get pay in May. I got it in June — two months in one and I got in July and August. Come September, October, I don't get no pay yet. Not a cent. When I went to the ministry yesterday [Monday], they say I have to carry the 503 Form...So, my principal signed it up yesterday…but I know that if you're in a vacant position you don't need another 503, so that's the excuse they use because they don't pay me, and I went there yesterday. "I went with some paper to demonstrate...I am disgusted how they treat you down by the Ministry of Education," he said. Another teacher said the failure of the ministry to pay them is hurting. "I didn't come to work yesterday because I literally don't know how I would actually commute to work and go back home as I didn't have the funds," he said. The 24-year-old educator, who lives in rural St Catherine, says that over the last two months, there have been days when things are so rough that he has to go through the work week with no lunch. He appealed to the ministry to show more care for teachers and deal with their situation with greater urgency. "It's our love for the children that actually keeps us here most times. So, we will go out on a limb to ensure that they get what they're supposed to get, even though we are not getting what we are supposed to. It is not a high-paid profession, but at least at the end of the day, whatever we are doing here will make Jamaica into a better place in time to come," he said but permanent secretary in the Education Ministry Maureen Dwyer told the Observer that any teacher who was not paid will be paid this week.

Dwyer argued that the issue is not very widespread. "These are sort of perennial problems we have when the claims come in late. We have a famous form that we call the 503 Form and sometimes they really don't come in on time. The payroll starts at a certain time, and it ends at a certain time, and if we stop the payroll then everybody will be paid late. "So those who come in after the cutoff date, what we have to do and generally, we do this a lot, is to create another pay cycle them because we cannot stop the entire 20,000-odd persons who are paid from the ministry for a few. So, we have to do those and then we do another pay date. So those that are out of the cycle will be paid today and tomorrow," she said, adding that they will get both their September and October salaries at that time. Dwyer said she had a conversation with the JTA president on Tuesday "to have her send me her database so that I can know what she is seeing vis a vis what we are seeing at the ministry, so that we can mop up any loose ends".

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