JAMAICA – Breakthrough
Trade unions and govt sign wage agreement
KINGSTON –– The government finally made a breakthrough in current wage negotiations with public sector workers, as eight of the 11 trade unions bargaining under the umbrella of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) signed a Heads Of Agreement at Jamaica House yesterday.
The signing of the agreement ended seven months of bargaining between the government and the unions, which threatened to break down on several occasions over the level of pay increase.
In the end, three of the unions –– the Union of Schools, Agriculture and Allied Workers, the Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel, and the United Union of Jamaica –– refused to sign, but the formalities went ahead anyway, as the required support of the unions was achieved.
However, the government still has a number of other bargaining units, including public school teachers, doctors, nurses, air traffic controllers, and the police to settle with after their rejection of similar offers.
Minister with Responsibility for the Public Service Horace Dalley noted that it took 14 drafts of the Heads Of Agreement before the majority of the JCTU unions were finally convinced to sign the document.
Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips described the achievement as historic, in terms of consolidating the partnership between stakeholders in the sector on the economy.
Phillips said that the agreement reflectedthe kind of maturity which should characterize similar negotiations.
“Among other things, it signifies the continued commitment of the public sector unions to the economic reform programme,” he said.
Dalley admitted that obtaining an agreement with a majority of the trade unions was “not easy”.
“Sometimes you are leaving a meeting on the cusp of an agreement, and when you go back you have to change [some things],” he explained.
However, he said his ministry was committed, on behalf of the government, to personally ensuring that “every single aspect of this agreement is implemented”.
In her address at the ceremony, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller noted that prior to receiving the claims from the unions and starting negotiations in March, the government had committed itself to end the six-year-old wage freeze in the public sector on this occasion.
She admitted there were 12 items from the previous agreement with the unions (2012 to 2015) still being pursued. However, she noted improvements in a number of fringe benefits, including meal, supper and tailoring allowances, and $45 million in grants which will be made available to tertiary students who are childrenof parents employed in the public sector.
Vice president of the JCTU, Helene Davis-Whyte, who led the JCTU bargaining team during the negotiations, said that among the highlights of the new agreement was that the plight of the least paid workers was taken into consideration, resulting in the $4,000 per month pay increase in the first year of the new two-year agreement, which works out to much more than the four per cent increase the government had offered for many of them.
She said that the trade unions had made the proposal in order to favour the least paid workers, who are most vulnerable to the current economic realities.
She said, that while the pay increases were not what the unions anticipated, they were what the country could afford at this time.
Wayne Jones, a deputy financial secretary and former president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, chaired the meeting.