Fri | Feb 26, 2021

WAGE WATCH - Unions want transparency in salary talks with Gov’t

Published:Tuesday | December 29, 2020 | 12:12 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Helene Davis Whyte, president, Jamaica Confederation of Trade Union.
Helene Davis Whyte, president, Jamaica Confederation of Trade Union.
Kavan Gaykle, president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.
Kavan Gaykle, president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.

The massive impact of COVID-19 on government revenue this fiscal year has seemingly tempered the expectations of trade unions as the new round of public-sector wage talks draws closer. However, two senior trade unionists are eager to see the results of the Government’s public-sector salary review, which was expected to have been completed this month.

The finance ministry informed government agencies and public bodies in May 2019 that the Public Sector Transformation Programme had embarked on a service-wide compensation review aimed at a comprehensive restructuring of the compensation systems in the public sector.

It says the new system will provide for clarity, equity, predictability, and simplicity in the administration of compensation across the public sector to include all salary and allowances.

President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Helene Davis Whyte, said the Government’s commitment to provide for equity, among other things, as part of the review, would be taken very seriously by the unions. However, she noted that the unions could not ignore the realities of the time in which negotiations are taking place, even as she acknowledged the severe impact the pandemic has had on the country’s economy.

“We are in fact, as unions, waiting with bated breath for the results of that exercise because that exercise will be seeking to value the jobs in the public sector. It is something we consider to be very important and should be an important feature of the next wage agreement,” Davis Whyte said in a Gleaner interview.

She said that although the country was facing difficult times, the unions would be utilising the usual approaches to collective bargaining, which would consider the ability to pay.

Davis Whyte asserted that the unions expected transparency on the part of the Government with respect to providing critical data to the various bargaining groups. She indicated that this would assist both parties in reaching a compromise that workers could afford to live with and the Government could honour as well.

Her colleague, president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) Kavan Gayle, said that the results of the compensation review should be shared with the unions. He said that when the unions met with the consultants carrying out the review at the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, the projection was that the study would have been completed by now.

“We are looking forward to, at least, a first glance of what the exercise would have presented,” he added.

The BITU boss also conceded that there are going to be challenges with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the Government’s coffers.

He wants to see greater consultation between the administration and trade unions as they prepare to sit at the negotiating table.

Gayle said that his immediate concern was the categories of public sector workers who are disproportionately affected by inequitable compensation.

He called for more consultation between the workers and employers before any steps are made to carry out restructuring at the workplace.

The BITU head encouraged workers to be as efficient as possible while calling on employers to lend whatever support necessary to the workers so that their level of productivity can be improved even as they navigate choppy waters during the pandemic.

He commended the front-line workers who have to interface with the public.

Looking ahead, Davis Whyte said that the vaccines for COVID-19 would help the country to live with the highly contagious virus. She noted, however, that the virus would not be “going anywhere any time soon”.

“We are looking with a little bit of optimism in terms of what 2021 will bring, but I don’t think it is a time for us to sit back and just believe that it will happen by itself. It will require a lot of work and compromise on all sides. We should be able to finish 2021 in a much better position than we would have started the year,” she said.