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Unions give cautious support to early wage talks

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 11, 2014    

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MINISTER with responsibility for the public sector, Horace Dalley, may well have his wish for an earlier start to public sector wage negotiations this year.

However, the minister has been warned that he will battle with trade unionists determined that the negotiations will have to be much more analytical than in the past.

The current wage agreement (2012-2015) between the trade unions and the Government expires next March, and Dalley told the House of Representatives in his sectoral debate presentation on Tuesday that he would like the negotiations for the 2015/2017 contract move forward from December to November this year.

He recalled that the current contract negotiations started on Boxing Day (December 26) 2012 and the agreement was signed some 10 weeks later on March 6, 2013, which was nearly a year after the April 1, 2012 retroactive date for the agreement.

"It is our intention to begin the 2015-2017 contract negotiations in November," he said, pointing out that the framework for the discussions was already being developed.

Trade union leaders seem to welcome the idea, but are insisting that these negotiations will have to be far more focused on the figures and achievements than those in the past.

"It is better to start earlier because over the years we have started late and ended late. But, we have already asked the minister to provide the statistics to show what has been achieved since last year, in order to guide us going forward," said Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) vice-president, Helene Davis White.

Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) president, Senator Kavan Gayle, said that he has no grouse with an early start, as long as the outcome is improved protection for the workers from the harsh realities of the economy.

"My concern is to what extent the workers will continue to be exposed to the harsh realities of the austerity programme, inflation and the continuing slide of the dollar," Senator Gayle said. "The Government must tell us how they are going to protect the workers, improve the economy and create growth over the life of a new agreement."

Public sector workers have not had a pay increase since the 2009/2010 fiscal year. Their wage agreements since then have been consistent with meeting a nine per cent of GDP target by 2015/16 which was set under the current Extended Fund Facility (EFF) agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF had insisted in 2013 that the wage restraint agreement with the trade unions should be a prior action and is likely to do so again this time around. In addition, during his sectoral presentation Tuesday, Dalley not only credited the public sector workers as deserving of better remuneration, but spoke of the 2015/2017 agreement which would reduce the contract period from three to two years.

"This administration intends to continue the effort to improve the fortunes of the workers," Dalley told the House of Representatives. However, he noted that whatever improvements are agreed would have to be within what Government's resources will allow.

"While I cannot today announce any increase in salaries and wages for public sector workers, I say to the workers of the Government of Jamaica once again, we appreciate your sacrifice, and are committed to working with you and your unions to find ways of easing the burden, as we approach the end of the 2012/2015 wage agreement," the minister stated.

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