The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) is suggesting that the salary increases announced last week for the political directorate be phased in over a longer period than has been proposed with a detailing of the benchmarks to be used in justifying the pay hikes.
"It should be in line with the projected timing to move average public sector wages and to achieve specific economic targets," the JCC said in a news release late Thursday evening, adding that the increases should only be implemented after the finalisation of the accountability measures outlined by Prime Minister Andrew Holness this week.
The Government has been heavily criticised for the massive salary increases made to legislators and parish councillors announced in Parliament last week by Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.
The increases, some of which are as high as 200 per cent, compare to much lower salary adjustments agreed by public sector unions after contentious negotiations with the Government in a long overdue compensation review.
The adjustments had the prime minister's salary moving from the current $9.169 million as at 2021, to $22.332 million with effect April 1, 2022, then to $25.267 effective April 2023, after which it would rise to $28.58 million effective April 2024.
The deputy prime minister's pay will move from the current $8.031 million as at April 2021, to $25.729 million effective April 2024.
The finance minister's salary will move from the current $7.440 million as at April 2021 to $24.585 million effective April 2024.
Cabinet ministers will continue to earn $52.00 more than the maximum salary of permanent secretaries, moving from $6.893 million in 2021 to to $22.87 million effective April 2024.
The Opposition leader's existing salary of $8.031 million will increase to $20.099 million effective April 2022, moving to $22.740 million effective April 2023, after which it will increase to $25.729 million effective April 2024.
Meanwhile, MPs will see their current salary of $4.331 million move to $11.077 million effective April 1, 2022, then to $12.532 million effective April 2023, then increase to $14.179 million with effect from April 1, 2024.
Immediately after the announcement on May 16, the Opposition stated that it took no issue with the new salaries. However, by the next morning it issued a release objecting to the increases.
That, however, has not spared the Opposition public wrath, even after Opposition Leader Mark Golding announced that he would donate 80 per cent of the increase being paid to him to a charitable cause.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Holness, in an obvious move to placate critics, told the country, during a news conference at Jamaica House, that he will not accept the salary increase, stating that, as leader of the country, he has a duty to show solidarity with Jamaicans who are experiencing economic hardships.
He also said that job descriptions and performance evaluations, which were previously drafted, will be immediately implemented for the political directorate.
Reiterating the Administration's argument that the improved salaries will attract talent to the public sector, Holness said, "There are many Jamaicans who understand the bigger picture of having an incentive-compatible system, where jobs — as assessed by their responsibility, skills and time — are paid proximate to market, and where responsibilities align with compensation.
"Such systems usually attract the best talents, and benefit greatly from innovation and productivity. This compensation review is the most objective evaluation we've had of jobs in the public sector. It is the most objective pegging of jobs proximate to market value that we've had," he insisted.
In its news release on Thursday, the JCC said it supports the ongoing efforts to streamline the public sector remuneration system.
"Such systemic reform has been sorely needed for decades and if properly implemented could go a long way towards improving our socio-economic outcomes," the JCC said.
"The herculean effort to implement a transformational system as well as how it is executed says a lot about the national culture that we are trying to build. Any such systemic change has the possibility for both good and bad outcomes and not all concerned will benefit equally. As often happens, the bad obscures the good when it comes to the unfortunate, but somewhat understandable, prevailing low trust environment with respect to public governance in our country," the chamber added.
"Ideally, we would have preferred that an effective public education programme was substantially advanced before the promulgation of such dramatically varied readjustments and increases as the Government has announced. Much greater transparency around matters such as this is almost as important as the solution itself, as we have seen time and time again," the JCC added.
It noted that after the announcement of the increases to parliamentarians, questions were raised about the reasonableness of the increases relative to Jamaica's socioeconomic position versus other countries of comparable size and economic challenges.
"This," the chamber argued, "is exacerbated by the long-standing unkept promises of accountability."
"Based on a recent poll conducted, these questions are central to the concerns of our membership on this issue. Perhaps there are answers that we have yet to hear, but what is apparent is that to implement such increases before deliverables have been defined and accountability measures established and communicated is not the message we want to send to our people."
The chamber also said that while it acknowledged the prime minister's attempt to demonstrate empathy by opting to defer his salary increase, it would urge a different approach.
"The primary issue of outrage, as we see it, is one directed at the increases for the political leadership, just after the same leadership adamantly appealed to public sector workers to take less than even they (the leadership) acknowledge should objectively be due, 'for the good of the nation'.
"If we are trying to inculcate a culture of prudence and delayed gratification for the sake of Jamaica, then the leadership must lead by outwardly living that message," the JCC stated.
The JCC also said it supports the establishment of an independent body to oversee future adjustments and systemic increases.
Additionally, it said its members agree that any decision to not take the full pay increase at this time "is only symbolic and cannot materially assist those teachers, nurses and others who are struggling due to under-compensation".
"The converse, however, of using those funds to provide such large increases for those at the top, while the rank and file's issues remain real and raw, is also symbolic; and as human resources experts tell us, symbolism, if practised long enough, becomes culture. We are confident that our leaders will choose to promote the culture that is best 'for the good of our nation'," the chamber said.