JCSA, Gov’t reach last-minute pact even as NHT workers join picket line
An 11th-hour understanding was reached on Friday between the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and the O’Neil Grant-led Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), averting a massive strike of thousands of disgruntled public sector workers planned for Monday.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke suggested that a “misinterpretation” of the Government’s intent regarding negotiated benefits was behind the simmering frustration of civil servants, which threatened to upstage this week’s four-day-long industrial action within the public sector across the island.
According to Clarke, the leadership of the JCSA felt strongly that the negotiated benefits that are proposed to be discontinued under the public sector compensation review should have been presented to them directly rather than through the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions.
“The JCSA explained that the way they received the information, they perceived the proposed discontinuation of benefits as a final non-negotiable position. This provided an opportunity for clarification. The position of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service on discontinuation of these benefits is neither final nor non-negotiable,” he said in a statement to the media on Friday, following a meeting with the union.
The JCSA wants its 2021-22 claim settled in advance of the implementation of the public sector compensation review and has also raised concerns with respect to the proposed discontinuation of benefits it negotiated as part of the compensation review.
“The JCSA has received assurances from the Minister of Finance and the Public Service that the 2021-22 claim will be speedily addressed in good faith. The Minister of Finance also affirmed his openness to feedback on the proposed discontinuation of JCSA negotiated benefits and further reiterated commitment to dialogue in the spirit of good industrial relations.
“Further, the ministry has committed to re-examining the JCSA’s 2021-2022 claim as it relates to transport allowances by setting up a technical review team,” Grant said in a statement.
He said that the union, which represents some 30,000 civil servants, is satisfied that the concerns expressed have been materially addressed.
Grant said while some of the JCSA’s members remain restive, the union would be withdrawing the notice to strike.
But even as tempers cooled, the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU) accused the finance ministry of blocking the National Housing Trust (NHT) from increasing workers’ benefits, which it said triggered Friday’s industrial action.
“What appears to be the case is that they have no intention of allowing any other negotiation to be completed until they complete the public sector compensation review process,” UAWU Vice President Garfield Harvey told The Gleaner.
Harvey said that at best, the review process is expected to be completed in no fewer than six months, effectively forcing workers to go without benefits until that time.
“We are never going to allow that. So the Ministry of Finance needs to get its act together because what they have done is to create a chaotic situation. The industrial relations climate in the country is abysmal and it’s only going to get worse,” he warned.
A significant number of some 900 NHT staff across the island walked off the job on Friday to protest an outstanding job evaluation, reports of an expected redundancy exercise and what they say is the management’s reluctance to increase benefits.
The last job evaluation was done in 2018. Workers said that no word has been given on when it would be implemented.
“Leadership, they sit and they are comfortable. At this time, we are uncomfortable and we are the ones carrying out the work on a daily basis,” president of NHT Staff Association Shanna Whyte told The Gleaner.
“The report was finalised and sent to leadership and the board and we are still waiting. Remember this process started in 2018. We got approval from the ministry in 2018. That is why we have grown impatient,” Whyte added.
The strike follows industrial action taken by more than 2,000 National Water Commission workers on Tuesday and Wednesday as they demanded action from the Government over an outstanding reclassification from 2008 and their non-inclusion in the ongoing review of public-sector compensation.
On Thursday, air traffic services were disrupted when controllers walked off the job to register their frustration with the Government over protracted salary issues.