Teachers who have reached the age of 55 and have been deemed to have resigned due to the government’s vaccine mandate may be considered to receive early retirement benefits.
This is the result of amendments that were successfully passed in the House of Assembly on March 31 to the Teachers Pension Act.
And while Opposition Leader Dr Godwin Friday advises those eligible to take advantage of the amendment, he argued the “real problem” was not being addressed.
“What about other people who lost their jobs in the same circumstances? Isn’t the real issue here is that these people shouldn’t have been fired in the first place? That these people, what they really want; ask them what they want — they’ll tell you they want their jobs back. They want to be teachers. They want to be in the classroom to help their students,” parliament told Friday.
The statutory retirement age is set at 60 years.
But people who have reached the age of 55 are allowed to apply to the Governor General for consideration of early retirement.
Public Health (Special Measures for Public Bodies) Rules 2021, which came into effect last November, required certain groups of workers, including teachers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to continue working in their workplaces. respective areas.
In case of non-compliance, the workers were deemed to have abandoned their position and therefore unemployed. They were also not eligible to receive benefits.
But under the Teachers’ Pensions (Amendment), Bill (2022) which was proposed by Public Service Minister Frederick Stephenson, teachers aged 55 and over who have been affected by this mandate now have the option of applying Governor General’s approval. be considered retired.
“That person will be entitled to receive a pension, even if deemed to have resigned,” Stephenson explained.
The amendment also allows for consideration of applications made by individuals before or at the time they were deemed to have resigned, making further applications unnecessary.
“It now seems to me that this law is an attempt to repair some of the damage, because it means that some of the people who would not normally be entitled to a pension or their benefits, that they could apply for early retirement and the do and apply and if approved, then they could get their retirement benefits,” he said on Friday.
But he wonders about the solution for people who have lost their jobs and who are younger than the required age.
The Leader of the Opposition described the amendment as “a half measure”, noting that it at least gives a remedy to some affected.
“…But that does not fix all the harm that has been caused by government policy and that is really what needs to be done and if you are serious about rectifying the situation, bringing our schools, our teachers back into the classroom, what needs to be addressed is the general policy of saying
if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t teach…” he said.
Friday also noted that there were specific requirements attached to the application and he said the process was discretionary in nature, as it was not guaranteed that people would be approved for early retirement even after submitting an application. .
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, however, noted that “no one in the teaching profession, or even in the civil service, can automatically benefit from early retirement”.
“It’s basic to understand. If you want to take early retirement, you have to apply for it,” Gonsalves said, adding that in his experience he couldn’t “think of any case where early retirement is requested. , once you meet the age requirements and everything else is in order, that [you’re denied] early retirement”.
The Prime Minister noted that while 5th grade educators can apply for early retirement, the same cannot be said for 3rd and 4th grade teachers.
He explained that some 3rd and 4th grade teachers, who chose not to take a COVID-19 shot, are over 55 and that this amendment “will fit that narrow band of people.”
“We felt it might be unfair for someone who is in grade 5 and above, who has reached 55, can retire early, but those in grades 3 and 4 cannot retire early. .”, said Gonsalves.
He added that any unvaccinated teacher who chooses to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at any time will more than likely be able to return to their position as the majority of substitute teachers are on contract until the end of this school year.
The Prime Minister said it was a reasonable decision to make in order to protect himself, the workplace and the children in the school system.