Teachers Hail A-G’s Reform Talks

Teachers yesterday praised the first in a series of Government consultations with them, saying it was long overdue. They later queued up to shake hands with Attorney-General and Minister for
23 Aug 2017 14:41
Teachers Hail A-G’s Reform Talks
Attorney General and Minister of Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum while speaking with teachers during job evaluation consultation for teachers at Jai Narayan College on August 22, 2017. Photo: Ronald Kumar.

Teachers yesterday praised the first in a series of Government consultations with them, saying it was long overdue.

They later queued up to shake hands with Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum
and thanked him for clarifying a number of issues that had concerned them.

The Jai Narayan College, Rewa Street, Suva, hall was packed with teachers as they listened to Mr Sayed-Khaiyum tell them that teaching was the core business of the Ministry of Education.

The Job Evaluation Exercise (JEE) and the salary increases were designed to help teachers focus on quality teaching for the sake of our children.

Adi Cakobau School teacher Aqela Tuiwainunu

Adi Cakobau School teacher Aqela Tuiwainunu

Adi Cakobau School teacher Aqela Tuiwainunu said: “This consultation was long overdue. It was an opportunity to sit down and discuss issues that have concerned us.

“There has been some misinformation. Today a lot of those issues were clarified. I asked if extra-curricular activities like sports were part of the review.”

Queen Victoria School teacher Arieta Mataitoga also welcomed the consultation.

She said the explanation about the salary bands answered questions, they had.

She said they were clearly aimed at retaining the best teachers and focusing on the core business of the ministry.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said he had asked the Permanent Secretary and senior officers in the ministry not to attend the meeting to allow the teachers to be interactive freely.

The teachers did.

The consultation went overtime as teachers asked question after question on salaries, contracts, job evaluation and personal cases.

Some of the questions reflected what appeared to be administrative lapses within the ministry.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum announced that the Permanent Secretary had agreed to get consultants to restructure the head office.

He told the teachers “they need to look after you.”

He said teaching should not be cannibalised by bringing the best teachers to head office to be administrators.

He said some ministry decisions “were made in a vacuum” by people in Suva. He said we needed to change the culture and mindset.

The civil service reform was not about salaries only, he added.

“It is about terms and conditions of employment and attitudinal change. There is a lot of laxity.”

He said there was also a mindset that a civil servant would only get a promotion depending on how many years he or she served. He said it failed to recognise a hard worker or a high flyer who should be given the opportunity to apply for a senior position and should be regarded as an equal candidate.

What used to happen in the past was if you wanted a salary increase, you applied for a senior post in another ministry, he said.

He said all those years of knowledge in one ministry was lost.

He said the salary bands which had been condensed from 29 to 15 gave the system flexibility for specialists to remain in the same area. He said the changes were performance-based.

“We need to improve the salaries, working conditions and increase meal allowances.” he said.

Looking at overtime, if you are earning less than $24,644 you are entitled to overtime, he said.

He said meal allowance at the moment was $9. It might be okay in Rakiraki but in Nadi it was not very good.

“We will be making some announcement on that soon. We have also increased hardship allowance that teachers get when they go out to rural areas,” he said.

Retirement age
After his 1987 military coups, Sitiveni Rabuka lowered the retirement age from 60 to 55. Laisenia Qarase later raised it again to 60 before the Bainimarama Government brought it down to 55.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said this was actually challenged by the unions in court. It went all the way to the Court of Appeal which ruled that the Government had the ability to change the retirement age. There was a provision that any reengagement would be based on skills. He said 69.4 per cent of the total population was below 40.

“They are the majority and we have to be mindful of that. If you look at the unemployment rate it has dropped by 5 or 5.7 per cent. But the youth unemployment rate is much higher,” he said.

“The retirement age is balanced on the need for experience and the need for graduates to obtain jobs.”

Fair and transparent
He said there had been issues in the ministry’s decision-making.

The ministry had set up an internal disciplinary board “which we said was illegal so we have removed that.”

If teachers applied for vice-principal position and they felt the whole interview process was not fair, they could actually appeal the process without the Permanent Secretary knowing so no one would be victimised.

He said he knew there were cliques in the teaching fraternity. When something happened, everyone got together and made tea for the senior education officer.

“We need to get away from that. You need to be assessed on your merit, in your teaching capacity, teaching ability, not on how much you butter up to the seniors. We need to get out of that way of thinking,” he said.

“In the civil service we need to attract and retain good people. We want to reward people.”

Other issues clarified
•Contracts will be for five years with automatic renewal. There is no impact on teachers’ ability to seek loans and this is confirmed by the banks.

•Nothing to fear – any termination will be in accordance with the Discipline Guideline and natural justice.

The consultation today will be held at Sai Hall in Sigatoka at 9.30am then Mr Sayed-Khaiyum travels to Nausori where he will hold the third consultation at 2pm at Vunimono Hall.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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