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Shaw urges cops to accept back pay by today

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 22, 2018

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MINISTER of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw yesterday urged rank-and-file members (constables to inspectors) of the police force to join their colleagues in the public sector and accept the Government's five per cent back pay offer for 2017/2018 by today.

“It is simply a pre-payment that would otherwise have to be delayed to 2020,” Shaw said as he closed the 2018/2019 Budget Debate at Gordon House yesterday.

“We must make the retroactive payments in this fiscal year, because to do it next year would violate Jamaica's Fiscal Responsibility Law,” he added.

Shaw assured the Jamaica Police Federation, which represents the rank-an-file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), that accepting the payments would in no way limit its right to negotiate a new wage agreement.

“It is simply a pre-payment that would otherwise have to be delayed to 2020. The workers deserve their money now,” he insisted.

Shaw confirmed that both the defiant Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) and the Nurses' Association of Jamaica (NAJ) have this week accepted the retroactive payment offer, which covers the first 12 months of 2017/2018 in the Government's offer of a four-year labour agreement lasting from 2017 to 2021.

“I urge the Police Federation to also come on board no later than tomorrow (today), so that we can pay our hard-working policemen and women their five per cent retroactive pay to April of last year, without prejudicing our ongoing negotiations. Our policemen and women need and deserve their back pay like everyone else,” the minister argued.

The back pay has already been agreed to by the trade unions which fall under the umbrella body — Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU). However, teachers, nurses and rank-and-file police have been seeking improvements in various allowances to top it off as a condition of their agreement.

But Shaw assured them yesterday that the payment was being treated as a “non-prejudicial advance payment”, which would not compromise the ongoing negotiations.

There was no indication up to last night whether the police had accepted the assurance, but the general feeling among public sector workers appeared to be to allow the payment, and to continue negotiating possible improvements in fringe benefits, including allowances and preferential housing treatment.

A similar stand-off between a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration in 2011 and the unions ended with an agreement for a seven per cent wage increase, due from 2009, to take effect on the regular pay day in September 2011, including one month of the retroactive payment due for the five-month period April to August 2011.

The retroactive amounts, for the other four months, were scheduled to be paid in December 2011. The outstanding amounts for the two years, 2009 to 2010, and 2010 to 2011, totalling $21.1 billion, was paid in five equal instalments of $4.22 billion in May and October 2012; May and October 2013; and May 2014.

However, that agreement was blamed for the derailment of the then Extended Fund Facility between Government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and eventually a breakdown in relations between the two, until a change of Government in December 2011.

In his closing presentation yesterday, Shaw also addressed a number of other issues including: the claim by the Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips that the Government had given up $4 billion in bauxite levy proceeds, which could have been used to pay the workers; and Phillips's suggestion that the Government was “failing to take a firm stand against corruption”.

Shaw said that by the time the JLP returned to power in February 2016, it had found the bauxite industry “in shambles”.

He said that Noranda was in arbitration with the previous Administration, its parent company had filed for bankruptcy in the United States and a letter of credit that the Government could have drawn on for US$12.6 million was ignored and had expired.

He said that there was no levy coming from Alpart (now JISCO/Alpart) and the plant was rusting, and WINDALCO had not paid any levy from October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2015, costing the country some $3.8 billion.

He said that the JLP Administration rescued the industry by completing discussions which allowed JISCO/Alpart to invest over US$300 million to purchase the plants from UC Rusal, and put in additional investment to restart operations in June 2017.

The 2018/19 budget was passed by the House at the close of the debate yesterday.

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