That the threat of a strike by civil servants has been averted does not end the unrest among public sector employees on the island. However, this is an opportunity for the Government to redefine its communication and negotiation strategy with public sector employees and their unions on the establishment of a system for upgrading and compensating jobs.
This reset will require three things. First, the administration should avoid harassing or denigrating workers and their representatives who do not readily adhere to the proposed program; he warned proxies against portraying the unrest and recent work stoppages as a proxy action by the political opposition; and it must bring all interested parties together around the negotiating table.
We understand that this last proposal may seem cumbersome and time-consuming to an administration wishing to end the process. However, patient, hard and transparent work is sometimes the price governments have to pay to get people to embrace new ideas and policies.
the gleaner has in the past declared broad support for accelerating the public sector reform agenda that has dragged on for more than two decades. Indeed, managing 325 steps and 185 salary allowances must be a cumbersome, stressful and inefficient exercise for accountants and human resources managers in the public sector.
The panoply of ranks and allowances, as Finance and Civil Service Minister Nigel Clarke has explained, arose from the employment by successive governments of interim methods to supplement the salaries of various groups and categories of employees, without a full examination of the impact of each of these arrangements on the public sector as a whole. The system is now Byzantine.
After a two-year re-analysis by outside consultants of the jobs held by public sector workers and their pay, job categories are to be significantly reduced. Many non-taxable allowances will now be incorporated into the taxable salary. But Dr Clarke, the finance minister, insists workers will not be worse off under the new arrangement – and in most cases better.
Indeed, in the current fiscal year, the government expects its payroll, at J$263.8 billion, to be 20% higher than the previous one, although the new figures include salaries that do not would not previously have been classified as wages. When the process is completed in 2025-26, the wage bill, including all payments, will increase by a further J$125 billion, or 56%. Public sector wages as a share of gross domestic product, after two years of increases, will stand at 11.5%, up from 9.9% in 2021-22.
But the devil, they say, is in the details. And what those details are is not widely known. The government mainly conducted its negotiations with the apex organization of trade unions, rather than with specific unions or bargaining groups.
In addition, the latent mistrust has been heightened by fears among some groups, particularly those that are self-funding and off the central government budget, that long-completed job and wage reviews have been put on hold pending the completion of the central government project.
Last week, workers at the National Water Commission went on strike for two days, saying a jobs and pay review, completed four years ago, had not been discussed. They were followed by air traffic controllers – who later claimed they had not gone on strike, but had encountered problems with equipment – citing similar complaints. Employees of the profitable and asset-rich National Housing Trust went on strike towards the end of the week, saying their officials, on instructions from the central government, had delayed conclusions on the job reclassification and pay review of this agency. The Jamaica Public Service Association had threatened to strike from today over concerns that the value of accrued compensation would not be open to negotiation and that members would not be fully compensated for what would be lost.
SPREAD THE TROUBLE
Government supporters have cast the unrest as orchestrated by the political opposition to pressure the administration, unconcerned about the damage that could be done to the economy.
Clearly, this simmering bubble, if it resulted in a hot summer of labor disruption, would hurt the economy, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness has noted. In this regard, we welcome the Prime Minister’s generally conciliatory tone in acknowledging workers’ concerns and calling for the issues to be addressed at the bargaining table. Dr. Clarke, too, perhaps slow, picked up the right pace.
But in the future, patience and emotional intelligence will matter. The same will apply to the choice of language by Mr. Holness and Dr. Clarke.
For example, statements about the state of the global economy and how national industrial action will jeopardize the march to economic “prosperity” must be balanced with an appreciation of the pressure people feel in the face of a strong price inflation, particularly the cost of food. Neither party should lecture the other. Negotiations can be difficult, but must be undertaken with an understanding of current realities, on all sides, and in an environment of respect.