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D-day for sugar talks

Thursday, March 13, 2014    

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TODAY is expected to be decision day for the stakeholders in the sugar industry who are still locked in a dispute over pay and fringe benefits which is holding up agreement on a new contract.

Both the trade unions — the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, the National Workers Union and the University and Allied Workers Union — and the Sugar Producers Federation (SPF), which represents the employers, are hoping for a settlement today to avert possible industrial action.

The Jamaica Obsever understands that there is a strong likelihood of a settlement when the parties meet at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, as both sides seem wary of the prolonged negotiations and the fact that the workers have become restive. In addition, reports of a slow and late start to the 2013/14 crop due to heavy rains affecting production, stakeholders — including the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company — are hoping to end the dispute, avert a strike, and focus on production.

Sources told the Observer that, despite the unions' sticking by its wage increase demand of 13 per cent this year and a further 8.5 per cent next year, and the SPF at seven per cent and three per cent, the gap could narrow enough today to trigger a settlement.

However, there are other outstanding issues, including the unions demand for a job evaluation and reclassification exercise as well as a pension scheme, likely to start in the second year of the agreement. But, the most contentious issue seems to be the crucial crop bonus, which the unions want to be increased by 10 per cent this year and a further six per cent next year. The SPF, however, has offered four per cent and two per cent.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 10:00 this morning.

— Balford Henry

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