Gov't resumes wage talks, but no agreement with unions in sight

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, November 09, 2017

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THE Ministry of Finance and the Public Service has resumed negotiations with public sector unions, amidst persistent appeals from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to have the issues resolved.

However, the talks which resumed yesterday with the negotiating team of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) ended on a sour note, with the JTA team issuing a press release afterwards highlighting that “there was no new offer”.

The JTA said that it is concerned about the seriousness of the Government in concluding the negotiations, in light of the fact that its members have already rejected the offer, which included a six per cent pay increase over the expected two-year duration of a new agreement.

However, reliable information from the ministry suggests that it is limited in expanding the offer beyond the six per cent because of the need to also meet the deadline for bringing down public sector salaries to nine per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The JTA told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that it will be intensifying its efforts to secure a better offer from the Government.

Its president, Georgia Waugh Richards, confirmed in an interview with the Observer that the association will be seeking a new mandate from its General Council on November 25 to proceed with the negotiations.

“We will be having parish meetings to inform our members of the latest developments, but the General Council is the highest decision-making body outside of the annual conference, and they will have to give us a mandate for our next course of action,” she said.

In the meantime, the ministry's negotiating team, which includes ministers of state Rudyard Spencer and Fayval Williams, is scheduled to meet with the team from the Jamaica Police Federation on Monday, and the multi-union team from the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), which includes the Jamaica Civil Service Association on Tuesday morning.

Both the police federation and the JCTU have been commenting on the slow pace of the talks, and have been calling for early meetings to step up the pace of negotiations for an agreement on salaries and fringe benefits expected to cover the period April 2017 to March 2019.

The IMF has also been making its voice heard on the subject of the completion of the negotiations as well as the transformation of the public sector.

IMF review team head Uma Ramakrishnan said in September that the wage negotiations should be anchored on a framework to sustainably reduce the wage bill and release resources for the much-needed social and growth-enhancing spending.

And while Minister of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw has responded that public sector reform remains at the top of the government's agenda, the fund continues to raise the issue.

In October, IMF deputy managing director and acting chairman Tao Zhang listed prolonged wage negotiations with public sector trade unions, and the need to overhaul the pay structure and review the complex system of allowances in the public sector, among the main issues threatening Jamaica's performance under the economic programme supported by the Stand-By Arrangement with the fund.




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