BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter email@example.com
AS the Portia Simpson Miller Administration moves to complete the actions needed to secure the long-awaited agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), representatives of the unions representing public sector workers are insisting that they have no intention of inking any agreement with the Government until they hear what workers will be getting in return.
On Friday, the head of the IMF mission to Jamaica Jan Kees Martijn announced that the fund had reached a staff-level agreement and that a letter of intent would be forwarded to the IMF's Board of Governors for approval.
Martijn repeated pronouncements that certain prior actions needed to be completed before final approval. Those critical actions include a successful debt exchange, which was launched last week, and for the Government to present a signed agreement from public sector unions, indicating their willingness to accept a period of wage restraint.
But without 'buy-in' from the public sector unions, that crucial signature may not materialise.
Last week's announcement from the IMF came after nearly a year of negotiations involving Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips and his team.
The inability of the Government to secure even that preliminary agreement for so long had sparked concern among stakeholders, including the private sector, which complained that the economy was at a standstill, and that the Jamaican dollar was losing value while the country awaited word on the status of the talks with the IMF.
Even so, Keith Comrie, the head of the public sector committee of the Joint Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), told the Jamaica Observer last week that the unions will not rush into an agreement with the Government until they fully understand how the workers will benefit from such a huge sacrifice.
"We served a 23-point claim, and we want to know what we will receive when we give up wages for the next three years. We are asking the Government to agree not to increase prices for Government services without reaching consensus with the unions," said Comrie, who indicated that talks with officials of the finance ministry could continue this week.
Comrie, as well St Patrice Ennis, the general secretary of the Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP), are insisting that, while they are cognisant of the urgency of concluding an IMF deal, the Government must also convince the unions that it has a workable energy policy that will begin to reduce the high expenditure on electricity bills.
Both trade unionists said that the details of the letter of intent that has been prepared by the IMF should be shared with the unions representing public sector employees.
"We don't want anything to go in that letter of intent that cannot work, because if we have anything in that agreement that cannot work, all of us going to get more embarrassment. I travel abroad, and I don't want to go to the EU (European Union) functions and hear them criticise us," Comrie argued.
He said that the two-year stand-by agreement between the IMF and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration in 2008 was railroaded because it had unrealistic deliverables.
The trade unionist opined that the tough stance taken by IMF negotiators in their drawn-out negotiations with the Government may be due to fears that Jamaica could again falter on agreements with the fund.
"I don't like when a man tells me that him don't trust me. My word is my bond, and because of the Opposition's behaviour in the last Administration they make these people have contempt for us, and it is not good," Comrie argued.
Ennis is also interested in the contents of the proposed agreement with the IMF, as he believes that previous administrations have agreed to conditionalities that could not be met.
"We are using the same team of negotiators. So, because of the lack of confidence, it is not unreasonable for persons to ask what you are doing, because it is the same team that negotiated before and came back with something that they couldn't abide by. What is to tell us that they are going to do anything different now? I don't know of them taking any extra lessons," Ennis argued.
The Opposition JLP has also expressed concern regarding the contents of the letter of intent and has called for a parliamentary debate on the matter before it proceeds to the IMF board.
"This is important, as the letter of intent will provide the details of all prior action requirements, structural reforms and fiscal targets that must be implemented by March, and during the course of the four-year agreement," said JLP spokesman on finance Audley Shaw.
He is also concerned that the Government could be preparing to implement a ruinous tax package, which will be compounded by cuts in tax waivers, without a replacement policy.
Shaw maintained that such actions will severely damage the productive sector, put people out of work, and likely plunge the economy into further decline.