THE umbrella Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) has made it clear to the Government that it should forget any notion of a wage freeze for their members this year.
To back their demand for higher wages, the 10 major trade unions who are members of the JCTU, have served a joint 25-point wage and fringe benefit claim on the Government for the wage cycle 2012/2014.
This is an unconscionable position to take.
If Mrs Helene Davis-Whyte, the long-standing trade unionist and vice-president of the JCTU, was accurately quoted, the stance of the unions is that they could not resign themselves to the position that the Government does not have the ability to pay increases.
We wonder which country is Mrs Davis-Whyte living in, because it could not be the same as the rest of us. Every school child knows that the Jamaican Government cannot afford to pay what the trade unions are asking, even if the public sector workers are deserving of far more than they are currently receiving.
What, we wonder, are the unions waiting to see happen before they can be convinced of the extremely parlous state of the country's coffers?
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has signalled clearly and unequivocally that Jamaicans are going to have to prove their willingness to dig ourselves out of the almost bottomless hole in which we find ourselves. Nobody is feeling sorry for us, and nobody is going to do us any favours.
Among the key points of the negotiation with the Washington-based institution is containment of wage and wage-related expenditure in the public sector. Another key issue is reduction of the public debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), which simply put means that we can no longer continue to borrow our way out of our problems.
Right now, the Government cannot access critically needed funds from the major lending agencies to shore up our deteriorating balance of payments situation, because they are all waiting to take their cue, as usual, from the Fund reaching an agreement with us. The alternative to an agreement soon is not something which we would like to contemplate.
There was a time when the trade unions were nationalistic and patriotic in their approach to wage negotiations, showing an understanding of the difficulties we face as a country. Those were the unions of old. Rank selfishness is now the order of the day. Trade union fees are seemingly more important than economic stability.
This is even clearer when it is considered that, while demanding higher wages, the unions are unwilling to concede the stark reality is that it is either job cuts in the public sector or more wages.
Many workers in private sector companies are making that choice to forego wage increases in favour of keeping their jobs. Why should the public sector employees think that they are more special?
Oh, for the days of men like Carlyle Dunkley; Lascelles Beckford, Hopeton Caven, Reg Ennis, and Claude O'Reagan, among other stalwarts of the true trade union movement.