$30.4 b in new estimates for 60,000 civil servants
CLARKE... We are seeking to facilitate members who have already signed [the wage agreement] with a payment at this time because of the nature of the time that we are in.

FINANCE Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has appealed to Parliament for more time to present details of the Government's new compensation scheme for the public sector, promising that the information will be provided once negotiations with central government groups are complete.

"We are seeking to facilitate members who have already signed [the wage agreement] with a payment at this time because of the nature of the time that we are in. It is my full intention and my commitment that, upon finalisation with all the groups, the new Establishment Act is going to be brought to this House, where the salary of every position will be detailed and tabled. I would ask that we don't make perfection the enemy of the good. It would be much better if we did this after everyone has signed. That would be the easiest and cleanest way to do it, but unfortunately, due to the fragmented nature of the bargaining process, as desirable as that outcome is, it's not one that can be practicably achieved," Dr Clarke stressed at Tuesday's sitting, as he outlined the provisions of the second supplementary estimates for the 2022/23 fiscal year.

He gave the undertaking as Opposition spokesperson on finance Julian Robinson expressed concern that with the payments to workers just two weeks away, the country was yet to hear the details of the compensation review. "I would think at this stage the public has a right to know exactly what will take place in two weeks' time. At this stage I find that difficult and really unacceptable," Robinson said.

The Government will be seeking Parliament's approval of $30.4 billion to facilitate back pay from April 1, and new salaries to 60,000 public sector employees, under its new compensation scheme.

The estimates also include an additional allocation of $1.7 billion for the University Hospital of the West Indies and the local authorities to meet their operational expenses. This pushes the national budget to $973.7 billion. Dr Clarke said the additional $1.7 billion will be covered by projected revenues of $1.8 billion, as revenue performance has improved moderately since the first supplementary estimates were tabled in mid-November.

The $30.4 billion is being allocated from funds that were previously captured under contingencies in the ministry's budget, across other ministries, departments and agencies to facilitate implementation of the new salaries system, Dr Clarke said.

Advance payments up to a maximum of $100,000 have been approved for public bodies based on requests from those entities, pending the finalisation of their review exercise. He noted that the process to finalise salaries with public bodies is not expected to be protracted, and that those entities that are not financed from the consolidated fund, will not receive the full amount of back payments.

The estimates come three weeks after the Government brought the first supplementary estimates for the year, an additional $60 billion, to Parliament.

Dr Clarke again indicated that negotiations have not been settled with all the sector groups, which means a third supplementary estimate will have to be tabled. Agreements have been reached with 17 unions and staff associations on the structure of the new compensation system. Teachers are one of the groups with which negotiations have not yet been settled.

He stressed that the arrears will only be paid to groups that have signed agreements with the Government, and that this will require all departments carrying out their role on the administrative end. "That is the policy intent. Getting that done is very challenging. It is going to require similar gymnastics from other ministries, departments and agencies, including the payroll departments. My hope is that everybody does his/her part," he said.

The estimates will go before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee for review today.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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