Public sector wages negotiations an albatross around the neck of Jamaica

BY Fabian Lewis

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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It's that time again when the Government and public sector workers lock horns over wage increases. And being that a Jamaica Labour Party Government is in power, they are having it 100 times harder than if the People's National Party held the reins. And we all know why.

The leadership of the trade unions are working hard to bring down the Government, it would seem. Jamaica is now suffering from its trade union past. For decades now successive administrations have pursued a policy of appeasement of these trade unions without Jamaica getting anything in return. The country is been robbed blind by a corrupt, inefficient and wantonly lazy public sector whose sole purpose for existing seems to be to keep taking more from every taxpayer in this country and giving less in return.

According to the governor of the Bank of Jamaica Brian Wynter, in a speech he delivered in 2011 entitled 'Productivity in Jamaica': “Total factor productivity, which captures the overall efficiency of production, has declined at an average rate of 2.1 per cent every year over the period 1990-2010. Similarly, labour productivity, which measures output per worker, contracted at an average rate of 0.5 per cent per year over the same period.”

Let's break down that in layman terms. For 20 years, the public sector in Jamaica, which by far is the biggest drag on economic growth, and the biggest employer in this country, has contributed less and less and less every year! Over that time, they have demanded more and more and more. Who pays for that? The taxpayers of this country who, for the most part, aren't even working.

Let's go further: While their productivity has declined for 20 straight years, up to 2011, crime has gone up, our children have not been beneficiaries of improved standards of education, patients are too often treated like dogs at our hospitals, and the list of systemic breakdowns goes on and on.

The question then that must be asked: What are we paying them to do? Are we getting value for money? I won't say what I think we are paying them for, but I will say this country is not getting value for money.

The police's lack of productivity is even more frightening when juxtaposed against the climbing murder rate since then. If the police were more productive fewer Jamaicans would have died. It's a matter of life and death, really!

As for the teachers, their lack of productivity directly impacts the police. Because the less children they educate the more criminals the police have to kill or capture. The question, once again, is what are we constantly paying these people to do, and are we getting value for money?

The Bank of Jamaica head wasn't finished yet. He had this startling but to say while listing the factors that have contributed to the low levels of productivity. He listed a poor work ethic as been one of them. That needs little to no explanation as every one of us has, at some point, done business with a public sector entity and has seen the bad work ethic many of them have. It's disgraceful!

The policy of appeasement must come to an end. The taxpayers of this country who contribute a lot of resources to train these public sector workers needs a break! We need our 1.5 'tax break' from them. That equates to about 15 years based on how unproductive they have been, as well as the exorbitant and unjustified wage demands!

I am going to say what many people are thinking but are afraid to write or say publicly: The public sector has become too expensive for this country!

The public sector must understand that its contribution to gross domestic and gross national product have been declining since the 1990s, which means they are costing us a lot while they are giving us less in return. In a scenario like that, it is not only prudent, but essential, that they understand that the country's capacity to pay huge sums is not there. My children and grandchildren to come should not be saddled with debt incurred now to pay public sector workers. The country cannot afford that. That's just plain unjust.

If the position of appeasement doesn't stop, and the current rate of unproductivity continues, we will reach a point in the near future at which public sector workers' wages will take up 121 per cent of the budget. What will happen then? I will tell you: This country will implode like 10 atomic bombs!

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, a man who ironically was a part of the Government that sought an injunction to stop the police from strike action some years ago, is now going around talking about he stands with the police. Old people would say: “What a ole hypocrite!” I guess he needs the exercise so he is doing some walk around with his kind of thinking; maybe that will keep him from falling asleep as we saw recently. But the hypocrisy that characterises this present hopeless Opposition is mind-boggling. I guess when you run out of ideas you just oppose. They won't contribute to the solving of the problem. And how could they? After all, they were the ones that expanded the public sector with unqualified political appointments as the economy shrunk under bad leadership in the 1990s, and the private sector stopped producing and, instead, started buying Government paper, thereby not employing. So the public sector — because of them, the governing People's National Party — has swollen to its gargantuan size while contributing less and less all.

We are at the time of reckoning. This country cannot afford this white elephant called the public sector, not in its current form. Public sector reform is a must! And I will put it squarely out there that these unions need to be cut down to size. This is not the 1930s! One segment of this country should not wield so much power to cripple this nation by strikes. Not in the 21st century. We are paying for enacting these onerous and ridiculous labour laws that make it virtually impossible to fire unproductive people. We cannot continue like this. It is dangerously unsustainable!

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