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Dear Fijian Teachers: Setting the Record Straight on Unions’ Misinformation Campaign

Dear Fijian Teachers: Setting the Record Straight on Unions’ Misinformation Campaign
Attorney-General and Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum
September 03
12:54 2018

A circular from the Attorney-General and Minister responsible for Education, Heritage and the Arts Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum

At the Ministry of Education, we have no issues with teachers joining trade unions. In fact, unions can be a constructive voice for Fijian teachers that we strive to consider, but only when that voice speaks the truth.

In recent weeks, union bosses – and some politicians – have been irresponsibly misinforming you to spread fear and confusion.

Why? For union bosses, big changes aren’t easy, and they have grown comfortable riding high on the old system. But they know that when teachers see the improvements for themselves, they will realise that they have a more responsible and caring employer in the Ministry of Education. That means the very existence of unions –– and in effect, their own jobs –– will be threatened if they don’t evolve to fit a new system. Instead of choosing to adapt, they’ve chosen to dig in their heels and resist change.

In doing so, they have proven that they only care about holding onto their own careers, even if it comes at the expense of yours; but while they may focus on a political future for themselves, the Ministry is focused on creating a better future for you, and for the students of Fiji.

 FALSE CLAIM:

With compassionate leave taken off the table, and the introduction of the student free days, teachers will now have fewer paid leave days than before.

 THE TRUTH:

With the 2018-19 Budget, teachers will have a higher number of paid leave days during the school year, inclusive of 21 sick days, three bereavement days, five family care leave days, regular school holidays, expanded paid maternity leave of 98 working days, and newly introduced paid paternity leave of five days. Further, teachers now have dedicated time set aside for their own professional development counted as paid work time.

FACT: Teacher salaries are up an average of 12% and salaries for school administrator positions are up an average of 28%. For example, the maximum salary for Principals of Large Schools has increased from $50,700 to $110,400.

FALSE CLAIM:

Local Fijians and unions weren’t consulted for the Ministry’s recent restructure.

THE TRUTH:

The Ministry’s restructure came after six months of extensive, careful consultations with parents, unions, teachers, and Ministry staff. The contributions made by unions were considered. With feedback from Fijians at the forefront, expertise from Australia was also brought in to help reshape Fiji’s education system to be more like that of a modern and developed economy; this is something Fijians can be proud of and take confidence in; union bosses using international expertise as a fear tactic is irresponsible.

FALSE CLAIM:

2,000 teachers have been demoted.

THE TRUTH:

Every single teacher in Fiji has received a pay rise after the Job Evaluation Exercise.

Some position titles have changed, but this is a natural result of any legitimate reform. As teachers, do you want to chase after a title position or do you want a better salary, more supportive human resourcing, and more training on specific career paths?

Even though some titles have changed, all Fijian teachers are now taking home a higher salary than they were a year ago. Any teacher who wishes to upskill to match the higher standards required of new positions can do so. It’s a fairer system, a better paid system, and a system with new opportunities for upward mobility. The salary bands are transparent, with clearer definitions than were available before, and the emphasis is on the delivery of quality teaching and learning by fully qualified teachers.

 

FACT: Teachers now have unprecedented opportunities for professional training and scholarships to upskill and further their career growth. This includes fully-funded scholarships for teachers looking to upgrade their qualifications with a bachelor’s degree or even postgraduate degree in maths and physics, English language and literature, information technology, industrial arts, special education, and early childhood education.

FALSE CLAIM:

School heads and teachers have been fired for no reason.

THE TRUTH:

No one has been unjustly fired. Teachers have only been disciplined or fired for sexual harassment, enforcing corporal punishment, or legitimate serious breaches of the code of conduct.

FACT: There are more women and young people teaching and assuming leadership positions than ever before.

FALSE CLAIM:

School heads are being treated unfairly; in Fiji, they don’t need modern skills like school management and computer literacy to be effective.

THE TRUTH:

The reforms will require more from our school heads, there’s no doubt about that –– and their salaries have been significantly increased to reflect those new requirements. All around the world, it’s becoming clear that computer literacy is essential for students to keep pace in a modern economy, and how can we expect the school to prepare Fijian students if they can’t use a computer themselves? If the union bosses had their way, there would be zero computer literacy requirement or training for Fijian teachers.

Meanwhile, computer literacy was just one portion of the job evaluation, making up less than 10% of the school head final scores. Further, teachers aspiring to be school heads can educate themselves, free of charge, to meet the requirements for higher-salaried positions. The Ministry will soon provide online, modular learning and development programme to develop the skills that are needed to lead schools into the future. The modules will be available to anyone who wants to develop their educational leadership skills and their understanding of school management.

 

Unfortunately, unless the union heads have a sudden change of heart or are replaced, this reckless misinformation campaign is unlikely to stop anytime soon. The Ministry encourages all Fijian teachers to look at any unionist claims about education reform with a critical eye, and form your opinions based on the facts presented here.

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