More heat on Gov’t
Opposition stages protest over fuel prices, union leader says workers behind the eightball
Opposition Leader Mark Golding (centre) and his colleagues Anthony Hylton and Angela Brown Burke lead People’s National Party supporters Monday on their way to the finance ministry to deliver a draft order in a letter requesting a cap on the special consumption tax on fuel. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

The Government on Monday entered a second week taking flak over its handling of public sector compensation reform, despite a plea, on Sunday, for patience by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, who assured State employees that the complex process is nearing completion.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who led a group of supporters to the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service to deliver a draft order in a letter to Dr Clarke requesting that the special consumption tax (SCT) on fuel be capped, used the opportunity to slap the Government over the reform issue that had triggered industrial action in the public sector last week.

“We know of the events of last week and we know of the attempts that have been made to try and reboot the process because it got off to a very bad start as a result of what I call the inept, poor handling of the situation by the minister and Government on a whole,” Golding said on Monday, during his protest outside the ministry.

The Government, he said, was not transparent with all the information that the unions had presented and which the public sector workers had been requesting.

According to Golding, the Government had been giving information to its employees “in dribs and drabs” instead of “entering into what the unions regard as wholesome negotiations on the details” of the reform.

A police officer watches as placard-bearing People’s National Party supporters demonstrate outside the Ministry of Finance on Monday. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

“The Government must approach the whole issue of the public sector workers’ compensation reclassification in a transparent and fair and equitable manner, and that’s what we have demanded,” he added.

In his letter to the finance minister, Golding said inflation is ravaging people’s lives and the spiralling price of fuel is of significant contribution to that crisis.

“With world oil prices being higher than the US$67.50 per barrel on which the budget for fiscal year 2022/23 was cast, we believe that the Government should help to cushion the crisis by capping the ad valorem SCT on petroleum products to the ex-refinery price which would be delivered if the oil refinery price were US$67.50 per barrel,” Golding said.

“We want to show solidarity with the people of Jamaica who are going through very hard times,” Golding told journalists outside the ministry. “The cost of living has hit everybody really hard. We feel that the gas price is an overall factor in this inflation and, as you know, there are tremendous taxes included in fuel.”

Earlier on Monday, general secretary of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees John Levy urged Prime Minister Andrew Holness to lead the charge in ensuring that the Government clears up the industrial relations issues with public sector workers as the compensation review comes to an end.

“Workers are behind the eightball. Those things have continued to remain outstanding and the workers have continued to press on and the unions have continued to engage and it is coming back to the floor now because of this plan to move to a new compensation model, and the outstanding issues remain unresolved,” Levy told the Jamaica Observer.

In a letter to Holness dated May 15, Levy said, “We note the recent industrial relation challenges that have emerged publicly in recent times, and it is also of note that you would have responded quickly and publicly in some instances.

“We form the impression that you are unaware of the age of some of these issues that have been agreed and signed to by the Government of Jamaica, or its representatives, but not implemented over the last 15 years or more.”

He pointed to outstanding payments for Jamaica Public Service and Jamaica Urban Transit Company workers, as well as long-standing job evaluation issues at Petrojam Limited, the Financial Services Commission, and the National Housing Trust.

“If you use the existing compensation levels for the workers and try to place them on what they describe as the new spine, it is going to cause some challenges. I’m saying, before you do that, complete the evaluations at the respective places, look at the future of how you will treat with them and whether they can fit in with the spine or not, because there might be entities that cannot fit into the spine,” he told the Observer.

Dr Clarke had made his appeal for patience in a Sunday Observer column telling Government employees that the country is now “within striking distance of the most profound and comprehensive structural changes to public sector compensation by any Administration”.

The changes, he said, “are designed to simplify public sector compensation overall, improve transparency, increase equity and fairness, and improve compensation levels while retaining the sustainability of Jamaica’s finances”.

Clarke’s appeal came at the end of a punishing week of industrial action in the public sector.

The disruptions started last Tuesday when National Water Commission workers cut supplies islandwide for two days. That was followed on Thursday by air traffic controllers who stopped working over a faulty radar system. That action closed the island’s airspace, affecting at least 10,000 travellers and costing the country millions of dollars in lost revenue.

But as the air traffic controllers returned to work Thursday night, the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) indicated its intention to call a strike if the Government failed to address the organisation’s concerns about claims it wanted settled in advance of the compensation review.

On Friday afternoon, though, the JCSA withdrew the strike notice after a meeting with Dr Clarke.

The review is intended to overhaul the structure of salaries and other emoluments in the public service. It will also simplify the current complicated 325 salary scales and eliminate most of the 185 allowances.

Brittny Hutchinson

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