JCTU to meet with finance minister today
HAVING completed their salary negotiations, public servants are demanding closure to negotiations on other wage issues including reimbursement for benefits such as incentives left over from consultations with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, since in February, 2022.
President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), St Patrice Ennis, has confirmed that following discussions with Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke, which started a week ago, the parties will resume this afternoon, involving representatives of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA).
Among the chief matters on the agenda has been the issue of workers in receipt of travelling, upkeep and commuted or fixed items, which have their rate of travelling taken into account when they are being converted to a new band.
The JCSA’s final update on the compensation review, which was developed over eight months, starting in February 2022, by former President Oneil Grant, anticipated that the JCTU had reached a point where the Government could proceed with the signing of a new compensation structure to be used in guiding how civil servants would be compensated.
A new 16 band structure has been developed to facilitate the alignment of the salaries of public sector workers with the various subsectors. This is the first step in the three-phase implementation process for the restructuring of compensation salaries which were adjusted over a period of 3 years, starting November and retroactive to April 2022.
However, there are activities based on fixed allowances that are to come under wages in the future, especially in transport-related allowances, Grant noted in his report.
He said that the factoring of the rolling in of allowances must be done in a way that will not impair the new wages, when they are compared to the total compensation currently received by the employees of the State. The rolling in of allowances should be phased in to ensure that the employees who receive them are not at a disadvantage when they are factored into base compensation.
He said it must also be tax neutral and make allowances for at least five cycles of adjustments to the rolled in allowances, to ensure that the real value over time is not eroded, as wage increases do not keep pace with the real cost of maintaining a motor vehicle, for example.
The report also recalled that Government had proposed a compensation review in negotiations for the 2017-2021 contract period, which led to a four-year wage agreement, and which resulted in the hiring of Ernst and Young (EY), whose report informed the direction of the restructuring of compensation for the entire public sector.
According to the JCSA report, the objective, as was agreed then between the unions and the Government, was to ensure that there was equity in compensation across the entire public sector, and assurances were given that no worker would be worst off, as a result of the restructuring.
The commencement of the work for the review period was delayed a year, due to the shifting of priorities to do with the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the unions and government agreeing on a one-year carrying on adjustment of four percent.
According to Grant, several concerning issues arose during those discussions, in terms of which allowances were to be abolished, discontinued, absorbed or restructured and triggered a wide series of consultations between the Government and the various unions and associations representing government workers.
“It is generally accepted that the wage scales of the public sector were dysfunctional, hence the constant cycle of reclassification and upgrading of posts. With this reduction in the number of levels to 16 with subclassifications and the standardisation of the classifications within each level loaned itself to equity in determining the compensation of disparate jobs that have equal value and weight,” he noted.
However, given the passage of time it is the negotiators who realised that the window for the implementation to be seen on the official payday of April 21, 2022, was closing in terms of the date, if the negotiations were not concluded by the end of February, last year.
This allowed for the payroll information to be sent in time to be processed, arising from the new scales. However, the concern now is how far into the new fiscal year would the public sector employees have to wait, given that the one-year agreement expired on March 31, 2022.
On Monday, November 27, St Patrice Ennis, newly elected chair of the JCTU, told a press briefing on the issue that the mileage allowance for the public sector workers was among the main items on its agenda for a meeting with the Finance Minister Dr Clarke in December.
At that time the minister, who was away on government business, indicated that he could meet with the parties “around December 11”.
Ennis, who is also president of the UTASP, sympathised with the issue concerning the mileage allowance for public sector workers, for example, and listed among other items on its agenda for the meeting.
He concluded that the JCTU disagreed with the Government’s preferred option of rolling several allowances and other payments into a consolidated package.
“Those things, we believe, are things which must be put back to where they were and I don’t believe that there is much daylight, or there is too much daylight between us and the Government where that is concerned,” he said.
“What the Government says is that all of these things that we speak of, which we say are outstanding, it is a package. We don’t understand it, as such. For we are, of course, very willing and we will have made ourselves engaged in discussion, the week of December 11,” he concluded.