Unions welcome six-month extension for public sector talks
Finance minister says Jamaicans have “entered the stadium and are actually on the home stretch in full visibility of the finishing line”<strong id="strong-6d76d54785f2c4878f5757b14ead6f4b">.</strong>

A proposal for a six-month extended period of reclassification/salary talks between the Government and its 110,000 employees and their unions seems to have won trade union support.

The extension was first heralded by the 2,000 National Water Commission (NWC) employees who accepted the deal signed last Wednesday between their five unions and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

It brought an end to the stand-off between the management and the unions which left thousands of customers without water for more than a day. Within that timeframe, the parties were able to hammer out an agreement which included the creation of a steering committee to help finalise proposals for a compensation restructure within three months.

That restructuring will be conducted and finalised within three months from May 20, 2022, and thereafter the results of the exercise shall be implemented within another three months.

The 30,000-strong Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), which had threatened to strike if its members’ continued requests for similar talks continued to be ignored, withdrew the threat and agreed to a similar negotiating period when it was offered by Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke last Friday.

During the extended period the parties are expected to deal with a number of issues which have been simmering for at least the last two decades, and which the unions say need to be addressed before they can accept the long-awaited public sector compensation agreement.

In a lengthy response to the growing issues Dr Clarke, in a column in this week’s Sunday Observer, noted that the talks between his ministry and the unions have been proceeding round the clock and involve 45 trade unions and internal staff associations.

He admitted that the slow pace of the procedure has fed the misconception among many public bodies that they are being left out.

“After all, their managements and bargaining groups are, as yet, unable to supply reliable information on how the exercise will affect them, even as they are aware that colleagues in many other parts of the Government have received information,” he said.

He added that though they have moved closer than ever before, for some public bodies — which were persuaded years ago to subordinate their own attempts at reclassification to the across-all-of-Government reform effort — the perception that progress is under way for some has led to the “palpable discontent”.

He said that in that atmosphere, the Government had decided to pursue the central government negotiations and allow more time for public bodies to complete their work.

According to JCSA President Oneil Grant, a number of the issues which were being discussed by the civil servants were closed before they could be dealt with at the negotiating table.

“That would have caused some angst among the membership and we were not getting the kind of responses that we wanted when we raised our concerns, and so the members would have reacted,” he explained.

He said that the finance minister has brought some clarity to the issues as well as some respect for those talks, and there is now a path forward to have them resolved.

He also noted that the first meeting to start the new round of discussions for civil servants has been scheduled for Wednesday, “and there is a dedicated effort on both sides to ensure that the matters are properly resolved and that we don’t go back to the union feeling that it/we were being taken for granted”.

Grant said there were indications that other concerns would be addressed, in terms of the reclassification exercises, including those in the public bodies. However, he said that the immediate need is for the exercise to be completed and to ensure that in reclassification the workers are paid what they deserve to be paid.

He said that that the question of how the allowances would be absorbed into the salary package would have to be discussed as well.

According to Bustamante Industrial Trade Union president, Senator Kavan Gayle, the compensation reform is good for the public sector because the sector has not done a compensation review in a very long time.

“It allows the public sector to determine where they are and to put in effective compensation principles and policies, and it drives equity within the public sector,” Gayle said.

He said the fact that there are so many bargaining groups and unions representing 110,000 workers in the public sector, “we can understand the appetite that would have been created in terms of the anticipation and expectations for this achievement”.

“It is by no means an easy process and so I totally agree with a reset, and that the proper consultations are done. It is not an overnight process but the process of the consultation is important, and so the reset in terms of the procedure is very critical,” Gayle said.

“So it is going to take time in order for that to happen but I believe that the six-month time frame is reasonable in order to allow for the consultations and the proper feedback.”

General secretary of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees, John Levy said, however, he is concerned about the limited six-month extension.

He said that, based on his union’s experience with job evaluation exercises and the details involved, six months was much too short.

He said there were already a number of reclassification exercises, including some which have already been completed in the public bodies, which have still not been implemented.

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

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