Great need to get national priorities rightFriday, May 14, 2021
In line with their sacred responsibility to defend the rights of Jamaicans, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is probing Monday's shoot-out between police and criminals which left two men dead on Trafalgar Road in uptown Kingston.
What's not in question is that ordinary people, including those who happened to be caught in heavy traffic at the scene of the horrendous incident, as well as the rest of us who have watched videos gone viral, were able to see in 'living colour' the danger posed to everyone else by ruthless criminals.
It highlights an obvious point made repeatedly in this space and elsewhere that regardless of the inadequacies and shortcomings often associated with those charged to serve and protect, their job is extremely dangerous.
Clearly, the men and women in the security forces should be earning far more and should be shown far greater appreciation in tangible ways than is now the case.
As executive director of anti-corruption agency, National Integrity Action, Professor Trevor Munroe was reported as saying two years ago, it's unacceptable that a police constable is receiving less than $1 million per year in basic salary.
Likewise, the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic has reminded us — if any such was needed — of the absolute importance of our doctors, nurses, and allied health workers who are all grossly underpaid and seriously overworked.
Let's also consider Jamaica's teachers who, at the height of the health crisis, have had to “tun dem han' mek fashion” to reach their students online and off following the suspension of face-to-face school; and will have to confront the lurking danger with the inevitable gradual return of physical school.
It's in the above context that an offer of 2.5 per cent wage increase to public sector workers has been described as an “insult”.
The cry of a nurse talking to the Sunday Observer about some of the reasons she and others have fled Jamaica says it all: “You get $60,000 a month and Students' Loan [Bureau] a tell you seh dem want $45,000. What are you supposed to live off?”
Low wages, poor working conditions, among other grouses, which are all summed up as “disrespect”, partly explain the ever-expanding stream of highly trained Jamaicans leaving for 'greener pastures' at the expense of essential services.
Long before the pandemic, which has so badly undermined Jamaica's economy, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke went on record regarding the need to rationalise public sector salaries to match skills most in demand.
Said he: “[I]f we are to remain on a fiscally credible path long into the future… how do we do that and, at the same time, make sure that we can address some of these imbalances [such as] the fact that people with high technical skills who are in demand need to be compensated at particular levels... if we [are] to retain them?”
The answer — however difficult it may be — has to do with getting national priorities right.
For now, Dr Clarke must sit with public sector workers, including those most essential, to deal with their immediate situation in the context of the crippling pandemic.
Going forward, post-pandemic, Jamaicans — not just Mr Clarke and the Government — must come to terms with how to properly reward the nation's most essential workers.
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