Re­think ac­ri­mo­nious col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, says trade union­ist

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - McPherse Thomp­son As­sis­tant Ed­i­tor - Busi­ness mcpherse.thomp­son@glean­erjm.com

TRADE UNION­IST Danny Roberts is en­cour­ag­ing pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers and oth­ers to find a way to min­imise the need for the con­tentious and ad­ver­sar­ial de­bate that nor­mally ac­com­pa­nies the col­lec­tive­bar­gain­ing process.

“This af­ter­noon, we are com­menc­ing what we re­ally want to be a con­ver­sa­tion of a dif­fer­ent kind, and that has to do with how do we treat with what is an ob­vi­ously con­tentious, if not con­flict­ual, sit­u­a­tion between ex­pec­ta­tions on the part of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers and the re­al­i­ties of our eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion,” said Roberts at a fo­rum hosted by the Hugh Law­son Shearer Trade Union In­sti­tute on Thurs­day.

Roberts is a 20-year veteran of the trade-union move­ment and head of the lo­cated on the Mona cam­pus, Univer­sity of the West Indies.

The fo­rum on pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers be­yond March 2017 came against the back­ground of the up­com­ing round of public­sec­tor wage ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Re­fer­ring to the new standby agree­ment between Ja­maica and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, the union leader said the most no­table for pub­lic sec­tor work­ers was the IMF’s in­sis­tence this time around that the wage bill be re­duced to nine per cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct to free up more re­sources to in­vest in pro­duc­tive cap­i­tal projects to boost growth. That struc­tural bench­mark has been pushed back to 2018/19.

State Min­is­ter for Fi­nance Fay­val Wil­liams, one of the panelists at the fo­rum, noted some of the ob­jec­tives un­der the SBA have to be achieved “while we are trans­form­ing the pub­lic sec­tor to be more ef­fi­cient and de­liv­ery fo­cused”.

Wil­liams said that when pub­lic sec­tor work­ers hear the words ‘ef­fi­ciency’ and ‘trans­for­ma­tion’ they should open their minds to seek­ing out op­por­tu­ni­ties that could ex­ist in terms of jobs in the pri­vate sec­tor.

WAGE FREEZE

Roberts said pub­lic sec­tor work­ers and their unions will con­tend they have been told for more than five or six years that there needs to be sac­ri­fice on the part of all the sec­tors in so­ci­ety, at the end of which life should be bet­ter for them.

At the end of the ex­tended fund fa­cil­ity – which was ex­pected to run un­til March 2017 but will be over­taken by the SBA around Novem­ber this year if the IMF board signs off on it – Roberts said pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers had been ex­pect­ing no fur­ther freeze on their wages and a more than mod­est in­crease in pay.

In­stead, “we hear about public­sec­tor trans­for­ma­tion, which comes with its own set of is­sues and con­se­quences”, said the trade union­ist, not­ing Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness’ re­cent hint that it could re­sult in pos­si­ble lay-offs in the pub­lic sec­tor.

IN A DILEMMA

“So pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers feel them­selves now caught in a dilemma between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, a lim­i­ta­tion on wages be­cause the econ­omy is not grow­ing yet as fast as it ought to, and two, a pub­lic-sec­tor trans­for­ma­tion which has very cred­i­ble ob­jec­tives, but which ap­pears to have neg­a­tive con­se­quen­tial im­pact for pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers,” Roberts said

That kind of sce­nario pro­vides the back­drop against which ne­go­ti­a­tions for a new round of wage set­tle­ment has to take place, he said, adding that there are al­ready ut­ter­ances from pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers that they would not agree to an­other wage freeze.

“And al­ready, you be­gin to get a build-up of the kind of fe­roc­ity with which they are plan­ning to ap­proach this com­ing set of wage talks, but truth be told, when you look at the macroe­co­nomic fig­ures, the econ­omy is not yet in a po­si­tion to meet the kind of ex­pec­ta­tions I’m hear­ing from pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers,” he said.

To avoid road­block in the up­com­ing wage talks, he said the par­ties first need to get on the same page in their un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues at stake.

“The con­ver­sa­tion has to be re­framed,” he said, to cre­ate a new par­a­digm for dia­logue that “min­imises the need for the con­tentious, ad­ver­sar­ial, ac­ri­mo­nious de­bate that nor­mally ac­com­pa­nies our col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing process, par­tic­u­larly un­der cir­cum­stances like these, and try to see if we can find a new path that be­gins to ad­dress the prob­lem.”

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