Public-sec­tor work­ers adamant they will not ac­cept an­other wage freeze; say tax break not a sub­sti­tute for pay hike

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - An­dré Poyser Staff Re­porter an­dre.poyser@glean­

AS THE Gov­ern­ment pre­pares to en­ter an­other round of wage ne­go­ti­a­tions with public-sec­tor unions, the work­ers they rep­re­sent have, through their union boss, sig­nalled that un­der no cir­cum­stance will they be ac­cept­ing an­other wage freeze.

“When the last ne­go­ti­a­tions were be­ing con­cluded, we heard that we should ex­pect an­other wage freeze, but I want to make it cat­e­gor­i­cally clear that public-sec­tor work­ers will not ac­cept an­other wage freeze. We have lost our ap­petite for those sorts of things,” Ja­maica Civil Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion (JCSA) Pres­i­dent O’Neil Grant said when the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other wage freeze was raised with him by The Gleaner.

Grant dis­closed that the unions are in the process of fi­nal­is­ing their claims, which are ex­pected to be served on the Gov­ern­ment in an­other two weeks.

The sub­mis­sion of the claims will kick­start the of­fi­cial wage talks for 2017-2019, which, ac­cord­ing to Grant, will be use, to alert the Gov­ern­ment to the plight of public-sec­tor work­ers.

When asked whether the Gov­ern­ment’s tax give­back, through the rais­ing of the in­come tax thresh­old, was not, in ef­fect, an in­crease in salaries for public-sec­tor work­ers, the JSCA pres­i­dent was adamant that it did not rep­re­sent a trade-off for a wage in­crease. He ar­gued that the wage in­crease ne­go­ti­ated in the last round of ne­go­ti­a­tions and the in­come earned from the tax break have been nul­li­fied by the way in which they have been ad­min­is­tered.

“Per­sons in the pri­vate sec­tor would have ben­e­fited from the tax break and they are not be­ing asked to forgo their in­creases, so why should we?” Grant asked.


Point­ing to the dis­par­ity between the wages of public-sec­tor work­ers and their pri­vate-sec­tor coun­ter­parts, the union boss ar­gued that the wage gap is much too wide even at se­nior lev­els. This, he said, needed to be ad­dressed if the public sec­tor was to con­tinue to at­tract and re­tain the best tal­ent.

“The is­sue is not one of there be­ing a quid pro quo. The is­sue for us is whether or not we have been prop­erly com­pen­sated, and I would tell you that we have not been. We don’t see any­thing that will cush­ion the blow for work­ers if we don’t get an in­crease on top of that tax break that was given,” he added.

Grant was also adamant that talk of a cut in the size of the public sec­tor will not be en­ter­tained, par­tic­u­larly in light of the fact that the Gov­ern­ment has reached a staff-level agree­ment for a sec­ond pro­gramme with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary fund.

“We don’t know where this ar­gu­ment of public-sec­tor cuts is go­ing. We rub­bished it in the last ad­min­is­tra­tion and we are go­ing to have to rub­bish it again. There is no need to cut the public sec­tor.”

Ac­cord­ing to Grant, stud­ies un­der­taken have not in­di­cated that ei­ther the size or the av­er­age wage of the public sec­tor is a prob­lem.

“Two-thirds of all per­sons em­ployed in the public sec­tor are in three min­istries – health, ed­u­ca­tion and na­tional se­cu­rity – so there is no room to cut, be­cause those are the most vul­ner­a­ble sec­tors that we have right now,” he said.

Per­sons in the pri­vate sec­tor would have ben­e­fited from the tax break and they are not be­ing asked to forgo their in­creases, so why should we?


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