The calls to reduce the size of the public sector are increasing and the sentiments behind these calls are very well known: from the perceived inefficiency of its workforce to the stark reality that the country just cannot afford it at this time.
Though these these calls may very well be timely, we need to keep in mind that the public sector is not made up of computers and cars but human beings: people with personal needs and families to care for. And though economics may govern a country, it is people who have to live in it. The social shock and islandwide devastation that would be caused by such cuts would sink Jamaica past our recessionary state straight into depression. Another point to note is that approximately 75 per cent of the public sector is comprised of essential services: teachers, the security forces, health workers. So posts to cut would be slim as the average person would be negatively affected as government services shrink.
Before we even debate cutting the public sector, the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) would have to be discontinued as paying people for bushing, street sweeping and tree planting would be inconceivable while one sends home teachers and nurses.
Whether we like it or not, it is not feasible, doable or survivable to send home 26,000 Jamaicans at this time. These 26,000 would not be the only ones affected but all their dependents, creditors and service providers. This would affect the lives of up to 100,000 and plunge many into poverty, further burdening social services and feeding the demons called illiteracy, hunger and crime.
I believe we need to move government to a flexi-week system which reduces working hours and also remuneration. Instead of cutting staff by 20 per cent and sending the country and economy into a tailspin, we should cut workdays to four per week, and cut remuneration by that same percentage.
This would ensure no one is without income and though the burdens would increase across the board, it would be easier to digest than 26,000 people losing their jobs all at once. Also many people would have the opportunity to restructure loans, adjust consumption habits and realign priorities - options which might not have been available to them with no income.
Such an arrangement would also lend itself to immediate realignment and temporary adjustments, for example, at Christmas, should the need arise. Though it is indeed a severe measure, it would defer or eliminate the definite death blow of redundancies and allow the government the space it needs to breathe. It would also provide much-needed time to turn the economy around.
In order for this system to work I believe they following would be required:
(1) As a show of good faith government should take a cut in salary to demonstrate its understanding for the need to make personal sacrifices.
(2) Public education on the state of the economy and full disclosure on the state of the IMF and all other creditor talks.
(3) Salaries should still be stated as full work-hour rates with notation of current situation. This would simplify NIS and Pension for those who retire during this period.
(4) Government should continue to be reduced by attrition. No replacements for staff that have left instead reassign and realign internally.
(5) Increase the pace of public sector reform to allow system to function optimally with reduced man hours.
This by no means is a complete solution as many other factors will need to be addressed such as waste, inefficiency, corruption and accountability in the public service.