BROWN’S TOWN, St Ann — Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding has placed the blame for the current public sector unrest squarely at the feet of Government, which he said has taken a high-handed approach towards wage negotiations and has ignored suggestions he made that could have staved off the series of industrial action.
Taking aim at Minister of Finance and the Public Service Nigel Clarke, Golding said: “Nigel, come off the high horse and be transparent and enter into proper discussions and negotiations with representatives of the workers so we can have a successful public sector compensation transformation reclassification. Don’t put the country into more chaos because yuh don’t know how to deal wid people. Yuh haffi respect people and treat people like dem a smaddy.”
Golding made the appeal during the People’s National Party (PNP) divisional conference in Brown’s Town Thursday evening, shortly after air traffic controllers called off their day-long strike. That industrial action happened on the heels of a two-day strike by workers of the State-owned National Water Commission. Employees of the National Housing Trust followed suit, walking off the job on Friday.
Golding, in his address to supporters, noted that the Jamaica Civil Service Association also gave the Government a 72-hour ultimatum, ending on Monday, to address its members’ concerns regarding their compensation package.
That ultimatum was withdrawn Friday.
According to Golding, the workers’ concerns are “legitimate” because the Government should have facilitated proper discussions to ensure its workers are not adversely affected by its proposed overhaul of the way compensation is made in the public sector.
He said some of the workers may end up losing benefits they negotiated for over the years. Those benefits, he contends, may be be rolled into salaries and eventually taxed, and Golding accused the Government of failing to facilitate the necessary discussions with unions representing the workers.
“It is a big disrespect and it is an arrogant Government...” he trumpeted. “Yuh can’t just seh a suh it guh because some consultant seh a suh it guh. Nutten cyaan guh suh when yuh have unions that are there to represent the people.”
Workers, he added, should not be blamed for the massive disruption resulting from the unrest. “All of this civil industrial unrest that is facing the people and costing the country dearly... yuh can’t blame the workers for that.”
The Opposition leader also argued that the underlying financial hardship facing people across the island is at the heart of the unrest.
He contends that some of the pressure could have been alleviated if the Government had accepted a proposal he made during the budget debate in March for the ad valorem special consumption tax on fuel to be capped at US$67.50 per barrel. He had argued that the proposal would have lasted for the “duration of the inflation crisis” and would not have affected the budget negatively.
“They don’t tell mi that what I am saying can’t work; dem just ignore it,” Golding lamented on Thursday, noting that gas prices continue to increase and pile more pressure on the masses.
He promised that a PNP Government would be more considerate of the people’s plight.
“How the people going to survive in this time if the Government not doing anything to help people?” Golding asked. “I know that the people are confused, the people are hurting, and the people want to see better...”