Customs on edge
Compensation review meeting set with finance minister today

Jamaica Customs Agency employees, who have been locked in a bitter battle with the Government over salaries under the present compensation review, are adamant — ahead of a meeting today with Finance Minister Nigel Clarke — that they will not be pacified by any offer that places them at a financial disadvantage.

"I don't think it's a negotiation that's going to happen. The minister has asked to meet with the entire staff of the agency and not just the management team and the unions to come to consensus. We believe this is a meeting to try and sell what has been put on the table by the technocrats from the Ministry of Finance," a well-placed Customs source told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, workers are in no mood to acquiesce to that.

"Pretty much what we hope is that the meeting will give the minister an opportunity to rethink the salaries that have been sent to us that will see most, if not all, staff members in a worse position than they are currently in. We have submitted a very detailed analysis of what we think is a fair package, based on historical trends and how we are normally compensated as members of an executive agency versus the rest of the public sector," the source noted.

The Ministry of Finance, the Observer was told, has been bullish about the workers' request.

"The Ministry of Finance has been unwilling to budge on their position and they have pointed out that they do not take into consideration things such as risk, which is a substantial part of a Customs officer's daily engagement," the source pointed out, noting that "Customs has been very active on the security front."

"In recent weeks we have recovered over 80 firearms and billions of dollars worth of narcotics, while at the same time facilitating trade and achieving the increased revenue targets set by the Ministry of Finance," the source pointed out.

"We think it's highly unfair for them to place the commissioner of customs at a level 14, while placing the commissioner of police at level 16, given the fact that the commissioner of customs has responsibility for border protection, trade facilitation, and collection of approximately 35-40 per cent of the country's revenue. We all are pegged to the commissioner, so if she is placed at a lower level then the salaries of all staff members naturally decrease," the individual said.

In the meantime, the source said there are no guarantees as to how the staff — which has already rejected the package on the table — will react to the minister's intervention.

"We hope that good sense prevails, because any industrial action by Customs will have a damaging effect on the economy. Customs is not one of those areas that take industrial action, given our dedication to placing the country above self," the source stated.

The minister is also supposed to be meeting with Tax Administration Jamaica employees, who have been locked in an equally acrimonious wage negotiation, the Observer has learnt.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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