Tue | Nov 29, 2022

Hurdles loom large as unions study wage deal

Published:Tuesday | September 27, 2022 | 12:09 AMEdmond Campbell, Kimone Francis and Christopher Thomas/Gleaner Writers
Helene Davis Whyte, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions.
Helene Davis Whyte, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions.

Sticking points persist over duty concession and mid-range salary bands as public-sector workers aim to complete, by this weekend, their perusal of a draft heads of government agreement under the compensation review and inform union leaders whether...

Sticking points persist over duty concession and mid-range salary bands as public-sector workers aim to complete, by this weekend, their perusal of a draft heads of government agreement under the compensation review and inform union leaders whether they will accept a revised pay structure from the Holness administration.

Several unions representing public-sector workers under umbrella group Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) have been engaged in intense negotiations with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service to arrive at a new pay structure.

President of the JCTU, Helene Davis Whyte, has indicated that the Government will, by next week, be notified if the unions are in support of the proposed wage adjustments.

The negotiating teams of the various unions have sent their membership proposals outlining the outcome of what had been discussed with the Government regarding the compensation review.

“As it stands now, a number of unions have indicated that they need more time to consult with their members and so they are not at the point of actually signing of any agreement as yet,” Davis Whyte said.

However, she told The Gleaner that the membership of the various unions representing workers attached to ministries, departments, and agencies would provide feedback on the document by this Friday.

Davis Whyte said that the unions cannot signal if they are in a position to sign until they receive collective feedback from their membership.

She said that the workers have expressed a desire to get some kind of payment by the end of the year. The increased salaries under the compensation review will be retroactive to April 1 this year.

“The ministry had indicated to us that based on the process involving a complete changeover of the compensation system in the public sector, the Government would need at least two clear months to introduce the new system,” the JCTU president said.

Davis Whyte said that the Government has indicated that it intends to absorb upkeep of motor vehicles into the salaries of workers in the core public sector who receive that allowance.

“Having indicated that so far, there was concern as to how travelling officers would fare out in any absorption. The other main concern that we had was how persons in the middle band, from Band Six to Band 11, would fare out as well,” Davis Whyte added.

A Gleaner source has indicated that a stalemate between the finance ministry and the JCTU over the package for Bands Six to 11 is likely to persist if a “substantial” increase in salaries is not put on the table.

The union is also not expected to sign off on the ministry’s compensation proposal unless the 20 per cent duty concession on motor vehicles remains in place, the source said.

Several unions have reportedly taken issue with the proposed package for those workers, whose salary scale spans $2.8 million and $7.3 million for year one; $3.2 million and $8.5 million for year two; and $3.7 million and $9.8 million for year three.

‘WORSE OFF’

The ministry, which is seeking to discontinue the duty concession and absorb the upkeep of travelling officers into their salaries, has proposed that officers start one band higher than that suggested for their post category.

The ministry said that this is to “ensure the compensation reform does not render them worse off”, according to the eight-page proposal seen by The Gleaner.

But the source said what has been proposed in terms of salaries either makes the employee “worse off or just making par”.

Unions want the Government to “beef up” the six to 11 bands or face a wholesale rejection of the proposal.

“What they did originally was groups one to five and 12 to 16 shoot through the top. All the big people of society in the latter group and the small man (groups one to five), if he gets 100 per cent, that’s nothing much,” the source said.

“In the middle (groups six to 11), you have the vast majority of technical and professional people in the public sector who are the heartbeat and soul and they would be worse off,” the source added.

The finance ministry has proposed a three-year package from 2022-2024.

For financial year one, the proposed salaries range from $969,000 to $15 million; for year two, between $1.1 million and $17.4 million; and for year three, between $1.3 million and $20.2 million.

“So they are seeking to absorb all the benefits into these salaries and that is why there are some contentious issues. Six to 11, what is the problem there? The workers are just breaking even and will be worse off when they have accumulated all their benefits,” the source told The Gleaner.

“The confederation is also holding out on things like duty concession. They can’t discontinue that and nothing will be signed without it.”

The Gleaner was unable to reach Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke for comment.

Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) President Patsy Edwards-Henry, meanwhile, told The Gleaner that a resolution relating to the conditions of service, as part of the compensation review process, is to be delivered to the ministry today.

Edwards-Henry would not specify the area of contention but said that talks between the ministry and the NAJ are advanced and could end favourably before December.

“We have two sticking points on which a resolution was passed [at Fridays Annual General Meeting] and that is to be delivered to the ministry no later than Tuesday because the nurses want to have this resolved by the ending of October,” said Edwards-Henry, who was recently re-elected for a third term as NAJ president.

“I do believe that they have seen the urgency of what we are holding out on. I don’t believe they are averse to making the necessary changes to ensure that service delivery for our Jamaican people continues,” she said, adding, “without it, there will be challenges.”