News

Government workers say no!

Reject call for wage freeze; submit claim for increases

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 14, 2012    

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MEMBER unions of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) have rejected a suggestion that they hold back on wage claims for Government workers this year.

The rejection by the workers of a wage freeze follows an announcement by Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips in the House of Representatives on Tuesday that the trade-off between the Government and trade unions was either wage restraint or the cutting of jobs.

"There is no doubt what the trade-off is: It is either wage restraint or the cutting of positions," Dr Phillips told the House. The Government, he said, would seek ways to minimise the impact on workers and their dependents despite the difficult conditions.

The unions' opposition to another freeze on public sector wages was evident from last week Thursday when they rejected the proposal from Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and Planning Horace Dalley at a meeting of the Public Sector Monitoring Committee at the ministry.

The workers and the Government now seems to be heading on a collision course. While the workers are holding out for an increase in wages, the Government seemed to be banking on a wage freeze as part of a deal to secure a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund for the cash-strapped economy.

The unions — the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union; Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers; Jamaica Civil Service Association; Jamaica Workers Union; National Workers Union; Trade Union Congress; University and Allied Workers Union; Union of Technical, Administration and Supervisory Personnel; Union of Schools, Agricultural and Allied Workers (USAAW); and the United Union of Jamaica — met at the confederation's Hope Boulevard offices in Kingston on Wednesday to finalise a 26-point claim, covering April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013. The claim will be sent to the finance ministry today.

Spokesman on public sector issues for the JCTU, the USAAW's Keith Comrie, said that the unions have already informed the ministry that despite the economic conditions, the process of negotiating must be exhausted.

The JCTU claim, which affects all unionised employees with the exception of salaried civil servants represented by the JCSA, includes a $3,000-per-week across-the-board wage increase in the first year, followed by a $4,000-per-week increase beginning next April.

They are also seeking increases in allowances, as well as severance payments to non-pensionable workers, a universal social welfare and protection policy including health care, disability, unemployment and maternity benefits, in the inclusion of postal workers in the bargaining union and an audit of temporary and casual positions to seek to make more workers permanent.

The confederation said that the claim was compiled after taking note of the fact that more than 35 per cent of the Government employees were receiving wages below the poverty line, while facing continued increases in the cost of living.

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