Be cre­ative at bar­gain­ing ta­ble

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION -

IN ALL like­li­hood, sev­eral hun­dred schools where the Gov­ern­ment pays the teach­ers will be closed to­day for a third straight day, as part of a wage dis­pute with the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion. Most of the 20,000 teach­ers have been out since Mon­day, pre­sum­ably ill. There are fears of a con­ta­gion to rankand-file po­lice, many of whom also fell sick last De­cem­ber, ap­par­ently with salary-re­lated ill­nesses.

We hope, in the cir­cum­stances, for the speedy re­cov­ery and long-term good health to any­one who is cur­rently af­fected by the mal­ady, and hope no one else will find cause to be in­fected by it. But much will de­pend on how the ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has not shown it­self to be par­tic­u­larly deft in these sit­u­a­tions, man­ages the prob­lem. In this re­gard, it has, first, to show greater sen­si­tiv­ity to the norms of in­dus­trial re­la­tions, in­clud­ing the codes cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. The State can’t ap­pear to be im­pos­ing its will.

In an econ­omy that is still grow­ing only slowly, this news­pa­per, of course, i s sym­pa­thetic to the Gov­ern­ment’s broad ar­gu­ment of its need to con­tain its wage bill and, there­fore, is call­ing for re­straint from pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers. In­deed, ap­prox­i­mately 40 per cent of what the Gov­ern­ment col­lects in taxes goes to pay wages. More­over, wages and debt­ser­vic­ing ac­count for more than 60 per cent of what the Gov­ern­ment spends each year, leav­ing rel­a­tively lit­tle for all the other things for which it has obli­ga­tions.

In other words, un­less they bor­rowed heav­ily, Ja­maican gov­ern­ments have, his­tor­i­cally, been forced to un­der­in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture and in other ar­eas crit­i­cal to the devel­op­ment of the econ­omy. It is i n part to ad­dress these is­sues that the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund has been press­ing Ja­maica to quickly bring its pub­lic-sec­tor wage bill to nine per cent of GDP from the 10.7 per cent at which it started the last fis­cal year.

This pro­vides some of the back­drop to the Gov­ern­ment’s im­passe with the teach­ers’ union, whose mem­bers are be­ing of­fered a 16 per cent pay rise stretched over four fis­cal years, start­ing with a five per cent hike retroac­tive to last April, cov­er­ing the 2017-2018 fis­cal year. In the ab­sence of all the re­lated data, in­clud­ing how this of­fer stacks up against the de­mand of the teach­ers’ union, it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the fair­ness of the of­fer, notwith­stand­ing its ac­cep­tance by some other pub­lic-sec­tor unions.


But it is a car­di­nal prin­ci­ple of in­dus­trial re­la­tions that one side does not have the au­thor­ity to im­pose what it wishes on the other. The process is just what it is: a ne­go­ti­a­tion. In the event of dead­locks, there are pre­scribed mech­a­nisms for break­ing them, in­clud­ing, in some cir­cum­stances, re­sort­ing to the courts. That is why we are per­turbed by the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­nounce­ment of its in­ten­tion to be­gin pay­ing ad­justed salaries to teach­ers, de­spite the ab­sence of an agree­ment.

The sugges­tion smacks of union-bust­ing or, at least, an ar­ro­gant im­po­si­tion that can only serve to harden po­si­tions. We are not sur­prised that the Ja­maica Con­fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions, most of whose mem­bers ac­cepted the pay deal, is op­posed to the Gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tion. Hav­ing com­pro­mised any high ground it may have oc­cu­pied on the is­sue, our sugges­tion to the ad­min­is­tra­tion is that it head back to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble with teach­ers – as well as with the po­lice – with cre­ative ideas to break the im­passe.

In the event, we re­peat an old one of ours for con­sid­er­a­tion. Given its de­layed di­vest­ment of state en­ter­prises/agen­cies un­der its pub­lic-sec­tor re­form pro­gramme, the Gov­ern­ment should ac­cel­er­ate a series of IPOs with some of its bet­ter as­sets, of­fer­ing pub­lic-sec­tor em­ploy­ees shares in lieu of in­creased pay.

It is not be­yond the ca­pac­ity of pol­i­cy­mak­ers and their ad­vis­ers to struc­ture such an ar­range­ment. Gen­uine per­for­mance-based in­cen­tive pay­ments should also be placed on the ta­ble for teach­ers.

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