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Public servants need assurance there are rewards up ahead

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Teachers, nurses, doctors, firefighters, police are among the categories of public sector workers making great sacrifices for their country despite poor remuneration and, in many cases, sub-par working conditions.

Now, it seems, the police are at the end of their tether regarding wage negotiations with the Government. The Police Federation, which acts as a trade union for rank-and-file police personnel, apparently believes the Government has been tardy in the extreme in addressing their situation.

As we understand it, the police are among 30 per cent of the public service which have not yet signed off on the 2017/2021 four-year wage agreement offered by the Government. Some unions representing many thousands of public sector workers have signed.

According to Federation Chair Ms Arlene McBean, the police are “very restive” and annoyed, and the federation will be meeting with its members to discuss the way forward.

Note the strong language being used by Ms McBean. She says federation members have been experiencing “high levels of destitution and indignation because of the lackadaisical approach of the Government”.

And that: “It is inconceivable that the Government of Jamaica believes that an overworked and underpaid police force portrays prosperity in an uncertain economic environment. This we classify as mockery encapsulated with lip service and empty promises.”

We note the demand from the Police Federation that Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke meet with them by tomorrow, and word from the Finance Ministry that the minister, who returned to the island yesterday from overseas duties, would do so soon.

Everyone knows that the last thing Jamaica needs is any form of dislocation in the work of the security forces.

This newspaper is well aware that the police and the army have been stretched thin by the demands of emergency and special security measures over recent months. The figures show a trending down of murders and other major crimes, but crime remains Jamaica's number one problem. The many flare-ups such as in East Kingston over recent days serve as a constant reminder, just in case Jamaicans needed it.

At the same time, it has to be recognised that there is very little any responsible Government can do at this time in terms of improving wages. The truth is that this Government led by Mr Andrew Holness — as was its predecessor led by Mrs Portia Simpson Miller — is in a virtual straitjacket because of the commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral lenders to streamline Jamaica's dysfunctional economy and reduce indebtedness.

There can be no denying that progress has been made. We are now told that Jamaica's debt to GDP ratio is down to 105 per cent, from close to 150 per cent in 2012. The expectation is that the ratio will fall below 100 per cent by the end of the 2018/19 fiscal year and that in the next few years that debt reduction will continue, allied to sustainable economic growth.

It's reasonable for public servants, including the police, to believe that having sacrificed so much for so long they will realise real benefits when the economy leaps forward over the next few years. That's the message Dr Clarke will have to get across when he meets with the Police Federation and other bargaining units.