There has to be a way to better reward our most valued public servantsThursday, December 02, 2021
Spare a thought for those in Government, not least Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke and his staff. They have the torturous task of walking between the raindrops, trying to make ends meet, in a heavily indebted, resource-starved environment, made doubly worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
We note the pressure from essential public sector workers, including police, teachers, and nurses, who, through their bargaining groups, have declined Government's stop-gap four per cent increase wage offer for April 2021 to March 2022.
That offer has been described by Dr Clarke as a “bridge” or holding arrangement pursuant to a brighter future involving the long-promised public sector compensation review in April 2022, which was postponed from earlier this year because of COVID-19.
Our understanding is that the review is intended to overhaul the structure of salaries and other emoluments in the civil service to make it more practical, equitable, and transparent.
Hopefully it will prove beneficial to those most essential, such as teachers, nurses, and police, who are grossly underpaid and demoralised.
Therein is the rub. Given the economic constraints, how is the money to be found to bridge the huge gap that currently exists between the true worth of our most valued public servants and their actual compensation?
We are told that many police constables, for example, are earning well below $1 million annually in basic salary to literally put their lives on the line in Jamaica's toxic, high-crime environment.
Frustration among police personnel have been made worse recently by the non-payment of overtime. The Jamaica Police Federation, which represents rank and file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, has taken the Government to court on the matter. There were embarrassing scenes last week at the Supreme Court building in downtown Kingston as police publicly expressed their discontent.
As to the education sector, this newspaper reported last week that, in the case of teachers with a first degree, the current annual basic pay is $1,299,336, and the monthly basic pay is $108,278.
For a teacher with a diploma, the annual basic pay is $1,003,449. The monthly basic pay is $83,620.75.
Obviously then, the average teacher or police constable is having a hard time making ends meet. We need not hear the many cries and complaints to appreciate the degree of difficulty.
For many nurses, who are similarly underpaid, the situation is a little different because their skills are so much in demand overseas. They are leaving in droves.
President of the Nurses Association of Jamaica Ms Patsy Edwards-Henry tells us that “…over the last three years or so over 1,500 nurses have migrated” for greener pastures. Hence the shortages in the public health sector, so cruelly exposed in the COVID-19 onslaught.
What's to be done? There are no easy answers. Yet, Jamaicans and their leaders need to find a way to sustainably reward our most valued servants. It is absolutely essential that the public sector compensation review and allied initiatives provide light and hope.