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Unions hold firm

JCTU refuses to soften position that wage freeze not an option

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 21, 2012    

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THE Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) says that despite yesterday's meeting with the Government, a wage freeze is still not an option for their members this year.

"It is not a position that our members have yet indicated they can accept, and this is why we are insisting on having the negotiations," JCTU vice-president and spokesperson on the discussions, Helene Davis-Whyte, told the Jamaica Observer.

She said that the trade unions could not resign themselves to the position that the Government does not have the ability to pay increases and, therefore, nothing could be done for the workers. "We are expecting something of value...," she said.

Davis-Whyte spoke to the Jamaica Observer following yesterday's discussions between the Government and the JCTU at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

The Government was represented at the meeting by Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips, Minister with responsibility for the Public Service Horace Dalley, and Financial Secretary Dr Wesley Hughes.

It was the second effort in two days by the ministry to get the unions to soften their approach to the wage issue and, probably, accept a wage freeze. However, it appeared that the general feeling among the unions remained that after a wage freeze in 2010/2012 there was need for some improvement this year.

Government spokesmen rehashed much of what was stated by Dr Phillips in his presentation to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 11, in which he listed the key issues on which an agreement can be reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as:: containment of wage and wage related expenditure in the public sector; tax reform, more specifically involving the restructuring of the tax waivers and incentives regime; and a sustainable fiscal path leading to a reduction of the public debt as a percentage of GDP over the medium term.

Phillips has insisted that, while the targets are challenging, they were not insurmountable if there was a collective resolve in the country, notably the unions.

Davis-Whyte said yesterday that the JCTU welcomed talks as the correct approach to participation at the beginning, rather than at the back-end of the IMF talks. However, she said that the unions were still concerned about the target of reducing public sector wages to nine per cent of GDP by 2015/16 which, she said, did not indicate that the workers would not benefit from any economic growth they contributed to between now and then.

She admitted that there was a level of frustration and disappointment among public sector workers, in terms of the returns from the sacrifices they have made over the past few years. However, she said that they recognised that going into any negotiations, they must look at their employers' ability to pay, as well as the inflation figures, in seeking to reach a compromise.

The Government and the unions will continue discussions next week Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Public Sector Monitoring Committee. However, this will be two days after an IMF team arrives for what is expected to be the last round of talks prior to a decision on a new agreement with the fund this year.

At least 10 major trade unions, who are members of the JCTU, served a joint 25-point wage and fringe benefit claim on the Government last Thursday for the 2012/14 period.

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