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Merchants unite to help public sector workers

Wednesday, May 28, 2014    

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PUBLIC sector workers should, in another four weeks at least, start benefiting from a programme designed to give them discounts on consumer goods, if all goes according to plan.

The programme, called Team Jamaica, was formatted by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and the Government.

According to Lennox Robinson, director of ePayment Group Ltd, the programme is being implemented in recognition of the fact that government workers have agreed to a three-year wage freeze.

"As you know, prices are increasing, so the Government is looking for ways to soften the blow," Robinson told the Jamaica Observer during a meeting with five of the first 12 merchants who have already signed on to the programme.

Robinson explained that ePayment Group is charged with the responsibility of putting the programme together because the company has the platform, infrastructure and technology to deploy this type of service.

"We will provide the technology to make it work, and we'll give them marketing support -- we're building a website and creating all the support infrastructure to make this programme a success," Robinson said, adding that there are 120,000 workers in the public sector with a wage bill of $150 billion per year.

"The programme is not exclusive, so nobody has an exclusive claim on any sector or service, but certainly the companies that came in first will get the advantage of branding," Robinson added.

He explained that under the programme, each public sector worker will be provided with a pinned swipe card that they can use at participating merchants' stores.

"The merchants will decide the discount," Robinson said. "Each discount will go directly onto the card as cash, which the cardholder can then use at another retailer. The cardholder can spend the money anywhere they want to."

Rollout of the programme, he said, is dependent on the Government, which has promised to provide a list of all workers. "We're expecting a list of 47,000 in the first tranche," Robinson said, adding that cardholders will be required to use their phone to text their card number to ePayment as part of the registration process.

Approximately 250 merchants are, in the long run, expected to participate in the programme which won kudos from representatives of the five companies who sat with Robinson at the Observer.

"When Lennox approached us, we thought that this was a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the relationship we already have with several public sector groups," said Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) executive Rickardo Ebanks.

"The idea just resonated with us, and so we will be rolling out a discounted mortgage product to the members participating in this programme. The details will be announced as the programme comes forward," Ebanks explained.

Devon Brooks of IGL said his company was very happy for the initiative because it will give them an opportunity to consolidate their civil service programmes under which they offer premium items to public sector workers.

"We have already gone ahead and integrated our system with ePayment to be ready as soon as the programme rolls out. This will be a good opportunity to give back," Brooks said.

Bert's Auto representative Gari-Paul Tomlinson said that his company, which is now 25 years old, has had a long history of giving special treatment to public sector workers. Therefore, the decision to participate in this programme was easy.

"We have been giving discounts to the security forces, teachers, nurses for more than 15 years," he said. "Over the last 10 years we have broadened it to all

civil servants."

His colleague, Joel Tomlinson, added: "It's also our way of showing good faith in our public sector... They have always been supportive of our company, so we felt we had a duty to give back."

Dwight Ferguson of Michi Supercentre, a member of the Loshusan supermarket chain, said the Loshusans have always looked at ways of giving back.

"So when Lennox came and mentioned the programme it was a no brainer," he said. "We thought it necessary to partner with the Government to cushion the blow to civil servants. Our suppliers, too, are looking for ways to pass on savings to customers."

Sharon Loshusan concurred, and explained that a number of suppliers, "like Ramsons and Wisynco that have supported Jamaican products have approached us to say if you are participating in that programme we want to support the civil servants".

Like the other companies, mobile provider Digicel didn't hesitate to say 'yes' when they were approached.

"We unhesitatingly jumped at this once the opportunity presented itself," said Patrick 'Paddy' King. "We take our corporate responsibility very seriously."

King said that Digicel, given its customer base of more than two million, was well aware of the tough times Jamaicans are experiencing, therefore the company jumped at the opportunity "to give back and do something for this significant body of persons".

Added King: "What we will be doing is creating specific products for the civil servants -- products like our post-paid packages, but also discounts on our handsets. So we are looking forward to be a part of this."

Robinson, meanwhile, said that ATL Automotive has designed a motor vehicle package under the programme, while Tastee will be offering discounts on products sold in their restaurants.

In addition, the Observer is offering discounts on its e-paper subscriptions.

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