Unions want details on 'modest' wage offer to public servants

Unions want details on 'modest' wage offer to public servants

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, February 20, 2021

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TWO senior trade union leaders are calling for an early meeting with Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke to discuss the “modest” incremental offer promised by the Government in lieu of a one-year delay in implementing a new public-sector compensation structure.

Clarke told the House of Representatives, while tabling the 2021/2 Estimates of Expenditure (Budget) at Gordon House on Thursday, that, given the massive impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government did not have the resources to begin the implementation of the new structure and finance the country's economic recovery, at the same time.

President of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) Senator Kavan Gayle and president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) Vincent Morrison both said yesterday that, while they understood the conditions which led to the minister's appeal for a delay, there is an urgent need to deal with the “modest” increase that he has suggested in lieu of benefits.

According to Gayle, the unions need to know the level of support public sector workers can look forward to in light of the effect of the pandemic on their lives. He said that the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), of which his union is a member, expects some “fulsome” discussions on the issues to begin urgently.

“We are aware of the economic situation and the sizeable impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the workers. But, we need to know what steps are being taken and how they will benefit them,” Gayle said.

Veteran trade unionist Vincent Morrison said that he fully supports the need for overhauling the compensation system for the public sector workers. “We do understand the situation, but we need to have some discussions with the minister, so that we can be clear about what are his intentions so far as an increase is concerned, and how it will affect the lives of the workers as the pandemic continues. We need to understand so that we can explain it to our members,” he said.

“There is no money to implement the job evaluation at this time, but the health ministry staff have gotten theirs. The minister has assured us that there will be no wage freeze, but he has to do the best he can for the middle to lower public employees. Many of those at the bottom of the scale are not even earning a livable wage,” he noted.

Clarke had introduced the idea of conducting a review of public sector compensation in 2018/19 after taking over the finance ministry, “with the aim of simplifying and streamlining the compensation process to make it more transparent and equitable, while addressing imbalances and inequities over time”.

“The structure of public sector compensation is overly complicated with over 325 separate grades, and it is non-transparent with over 175 allowance types that breed inequities in ministries, departments and agencies and across the public sector,” he said then.

On Thursday, he informed the House of Representatives, after the formal opening of the new parliamentary year, that the programme has already undergone a thorough review and examination of public sector compensation, as was promised. However, given the massive impact of the pandemic, “we do not have the resources to begin the implementation of the review and finance our recovery at the same time”.

He added: “Furthermore, it is critical that whatever resources we can corral are used this year on vaccines, the distribution of vaccines, our social and economic recovery, inclusive of jobs, as well as social support of those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Clarke noted that, unlike other countries, Jamaica's public sector has been largely shielded from the financial impact of the pandemic over the past year.

“There have been 130,000 job losses in Jamaica as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and none of them are from the public sector. So we ask for your understanding and your continued patience. And this includes all who are paid by the public purse, and are not necessarily unionised in the traditional sense, inclusive of parliamentarians and others,” he stated.

He said, however, that after factoring in annual increments, a very modest increase in wages has been programmed for 2021/22 with the expectation that the compensation restructure will commence implementation in 2022/23.

In the meantime, he said that the Government would use this year to fine-tune the parameters of the compensation restructure with the union movement, “so that we can move towards beginning implementation in 2022/23”.

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