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Opinion & Analysis

A teacher’s perspective on the pay adjustment claim

Teachers Demo 020519 { seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) from Casemates to No 6 where they presented a letter to the CM

By Pablo Hernandez

Recent events and comments regarding the teachers’ pay adjustment claim have been incredibly disrespectful and hurtful to teaching professionals. Although everyone has the right to express their views freely, that right comes with a responsibility to the truth. This is a core value in my teaching, so it was with dismay that I read last week’s opinion piece by Jeremy Sacramento on the teachers’ claim. At face value it appears to hold a moderate line in its analysis calling for reasonableness, whereas in reality much of his opinion was quite sensationalist and poorly substantiated. For starters, who can seriously believe that the teachers’ pay claim is Gibraltar’s most emotionally charged issue of the last few months? More so than abortion?

The fact that there are 380 teachers has prompted a call for economic caution, implying that if the teacher complement was smaller the claim may have a greater chance of success. This feels discriminatory especially if compared to other areas of the public sector where graduates arguably have a higher financial value because they are fewer in number i.e. lawyers. If we wish to raise the standards of education and avoid a future brain drain, we must make teaching an economically competitive profession. The salary of teachers should reflect the graduate training received to obtain qualified teacher status, the high levels of workload and their continued professional development.

I do not believe that most teachers are, in principle, against PWC auditing their workload given that their working day extends beyond normal working hours and into weekends and/or holidays on a regular basis. It is well documented that burnout levels tend to be higher among professionals working in occupations that involve helping or instructing because they are expected to meet the needs of service users and the demands of their organisation effectively and consistently in what are often unpredictable, stressful and time-pressured working environments. Teaching is one such working environment.

The actual audit is not the problem, but the timing is. Teachers may find the idea of a PWC audit more palatable if it comes as part of a public-sector-wide workload audit and not prompted by a pay claim. In fact, many teachers have quite rightly pointed out that Government was recently “caught out” when it awarded an arbitrary allowance of 10% to certain heads of department within the civil service, some with six-figure salaries, which raises the question: why was PWC not engaged to advise Government on the cost-effectiveness of this decision? It therefore feels to many like an intimidation tactic during pay negotiations.

A more wicked argument is that teachers cannot seriously expect to earn a salary more akin to graduates in law or the medical fields. Why not? Why is it so scandalous for teachers to have a salary ranging from £37,000 to £56,000? Gibraltar is an economic success, but teachers’ salaries have not evolved alongside other professions. Teachers have not submitted a collective basic salary claim since the 1970s. For the last 40 years the teaching profession has absorbed incremental levels of educational, behavioural and pastoral work inside and outside of working hours. There has also been a deterioration of the status and value given to the exceptional work that the majority of teachers do.

When teachers finally submit a pay claim, instead of finding an understanding socialist Government to discuss its merits, they have encountered an incredible amount of political friction and their role caricaturised in the media/social media with shocking levels of disdain. A very disappointing turn of events. It is justified that teachers should seek a pay adjustment to redress a widening professional salary gap.

The manner in which particular percentages have been repeated in an insatiable frenzy are purposefully misleading and aimed at bastardising the spirit of the claim. The choice to focus on the rise of 46% on the lowest point of the pay scale grabs public attention and makes the teachers’ claim seem unreasonable. In reality, it is a necessary entry point into the profession for our young teachers returning from university. Out of the 349 teachers (33 are on a separate senior leadership scale) around 200 are on the maximum pay scale and for them the proposed increase is 29%.

Considering that the education payroll is currently £21m, an increase of £3m from the pay claim would account for a 14% increase overall. Factoring in the increased PAYE teachers will pay for the pay adjustment, the total exposure to the taxpayer would be closer to 12%.

A substantial salary increase for teachers entering the profession is necessary as it is very difficult for them to access housing. Affordable housing schemes have alleviated matters recently, but these schemes are not infinite and are only affordable at the point of entry. The average price of a one-bedroomed flat to purchase in the open market is eight times the annual salary of a newly qualified teacher, whereas renting one can account for 70% of their net monthly salary. As with much of our youth, it is extremely difficult for teachers early on in their careers to access the property market. Now imagine if your child or grandchild was thinking about becoming a teacher. What advice would you give them?

Mr. Sacramento’s article stated that teachers work on average 39 hours, yet according to the Education Policy Institute teachers work on average 48.2 hours per week, and one in five teachers works over 60 hours – double the amount of hours they are contracted for. Regarding the amount of annual leave teachers have, readers should note that our time-off is dictated and that the majority of us continue to plan, mark and create resources most evenings, weekends and holidays. Anyone who knows a teacher will tell you, we rarely “switch off”.

Teaching and Learning Responsibilities (TLRs) are allowances for extra coordinating responsibilities. Heads of department get the basic salary of a teacher plus an allowance commensurate to the extra workload and responsibility they have. These allowances are not ‘hidden extras’ and all teachers do not receive them. The claim that teachers will earn £70,000 is propaganda on overkill. Concerning private lessons, there are public servants who bake cakes, do hair and nails, and do odd jobs after working hours and/or weekends and make money out of it. Let’s assume that they all pay their pertinent tax. What is the problem? Maybe if teachers’ salaries were adjusted appropriately, many who offer private lessons would not have to take on a second job.
Some public sector salaries, which on paper appear to be reasonable are less so after being artificially inflated by the existence of £8m in guaranteed overtime and £13m in extra allowances across the public sector. The figures for average earnings are grossly inaccurate and fictional as they do not reflect the real take home pay of some public sector workers. Teachers are not entitled to any overtime pay.

The comparison in terms of GDP per capita between Jersey and Gibraltar is a much better indicator as the two have a similar cost of living and are well performing service economies. Teachers in Jersey start at £39,000, reaching a maximum of £51,000 (with a claim to adjust maximum pay to £55,000).

Our Chief Minister recently said that our economy was robust and would experience a decade of growth. With a surplus of over £36m last year alone, is investing £3m in the gatekeepers of the continued prosperity of our economy such an unhinged proposal? Certainly not when the cost of the claim could be substantially reduced if Government unburdened itself of unnecessary consultants, re-engaged retired heads of department, and other unnecessarily expensive services i.e. £400,000 dedicated to media monitoring. A real socialist Government would find a solution by reducing unnecessary recurrent expenditure and not protect what political opponents have labelled a gravy train. Neither would it allow its activists and party machinery to wage an open war against teachers in the media/social media.

Mr. Sacramento alludes to Crown Counsels who earn up to £84,000, double a teacher’s maximum pay. Is this staggering salary gap justified? The warped rationale used is that “bankers and footballers earn more than biologists and physicists”. Personally, I would like to live in a world where biologists and physicists earn more than bankers and footballers. In fact, are not those some of the core values we try to socialise our children with and strive for as a society? Equality, social justice, merit and fair economic prosperity for all.

Teachers have been labelled unreasonable, yet Government has had the pay claim for over 10 months and has only reacted to it when teachers have reached boiling point. The situation has been poorly managed. There have been ample windows of opportunity for negotiation, yet Brexit has been the shield used to block all criticism of Government having dragged its feet on the pay claim. This is no longer a credible defence. Mr. Sacramento and the Chief Minister have both called for reasonableness on this issue. I believe that it is the Government that should have led by example.

Teachers should not fear retribution for their defence of the pay claim. A culture of fear must not be allowed. Silence and inaction allows any Government and its machinery to trample over the dignity of workers. The key is to remain united.

I hope nurses, carers and social workers are next to ask for pay adjustments because they too are undervalued. I will not judge, criticise or disrespect them on the written or social media and I will wish them all the best against what in my opinion is the most un-socialist and elitist Government Gibraltar has ever seen.

Pablo Hernandez is a teacher and a representative of Gibraltar NASUWT, as well as the union's former Secretary.

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