Govt to workers: ‘No more!’
After addressing the nation on Tuesday evening of this week, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips is quoted by The Gleaner as saying, "It would be fiscally reckless to borrow more money in order to offer higher pay to public sector workers" and "what the government has offered in the wage negotiations is what we can afford at this time."
The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) started the wage negotiations with the civil servants by offering a five per cent increase over two years. That was recently increased to seven per cent over the same period.
The Observer front-page headline on Wednesday was a cryptic and stern "No More!", while The Gleaner carried a finger-pointing, chastising picture of Peter Phillips with the banner front-page headline "We can't afford it".
Funny how the business leaders have and will compliment Peter Phillips - they do so every chance they get or create - for holding strain at this offer of low, single-digit pay increase. On the other hand, most tend to treat the five years without any pay increase as the 'reasonable sacrifice' government workers should make for the simple privilege of keeping their jobs.
This is a funny equation. On coming to Government, ministers received spanking-new, high-end Japanese and European vehicles. When this lot, which is currently in Government was in opposition, was asked to take a pay cut, they flatly refused.
Persons have mooted in public that the Cabinet is too large and that the prime minister and her Cabinet colleagues should take a pay cut in solidarity with so many Jamaicans who are facing financial hardships and poverty. She and they are mute on the subject and no pay cuts have been taken.
Think of the travel cost for ministers and ministry officials. A high-ranking official from an international governmental institution that gives foreign taxpayers' money as grants to Jamaica recently told me of their surprise to see so many government officials and their ministers travelling first class to conferences without any apparent recognition of the cost involved.
The fancy vehicles, untouched salaries, expensive first-class travel, and favours to party faithfuls all make the Government look uncaring and downright hypocritical in the way it has approached the GOJ employee pay claims.
ONE BIG SHIP
Peter Phillips will continue to receive kudos from his business-leader supporters for his 'No More' stance; he will get little or none from the hard-pressed civil servants.
The PSOJ president is quoted in The Gleaner of June 5 as suggesting that "the immediate option was for the workers to accept the Government's offer of five per cent over two years".
EPOC has also been holding a hard line with the civil servants.
The president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce said more or less the same thing.
And right after Minister Phillips' speech, the president of the Jamaica Exporters' Association praised the minister and his team for "staying the course of prudent fiscal management".
She went on to say: "I join the rest of the private sector in calling for the public sector to agree to the five per cent increase as both the public and private sector need to work together to continue to keep our belts tight until we get out of our tight economic situation."
Well-thinking people do understand the hard economic conditions that the country faces; however, when private sector leaders who draw down salaries that have no mathematical comparison in size to those of civil servants - and who have no concept of holding strain in terms of no-increases-for-five-years or three years - tell those civil servants to accept a five per cent increase after five years of getting none, the anomaly looks blatantly hypocritical.
The use of the 'our' and 'we' pronouns in an effort to associate with a group of government workers whose financial plight they could never for a moment fathom is to rub salt in an open wound.
The IMF gave the Government a pass by not making government institutional reform and efficiency a central plank of its adjustment programme.
WHAT WE CAN'T AFFORD
I wish that those in the private sector who are in chorus to civil servants to continue to 'hold strain' and accept the paltry five per cent increase after about a 40 per cent decrease in the value of the Jamaican dollar in the last three or four years, and further erosion by inflation during the period, would have pushed the minister from 2012 to put policies in place to enable much faster economic growth.
They largely went along with the IMF's storyline, swallowed wholesale by Dr Phillips and the Government, that fiscal consolidation - essentially wide-scale economic contraction - would produce economic growth.
Clearly, Peter Phillips knew this date with public sector employees' salary negotiations was in his future. He resolutely refused all early encouragement to go for growth. Now, all one can hear in government broadcasts is the need to grow the economy.
The Government's public position makes it clear that it is telling civil servants to take what is on offer or do what they please.
It and its finance minister take no responsibility for having done so little to grow the economy and garner revenues to offer a better salary to civil servants or to even try to restore their relentlessly reduced purchasing power.
Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the Opposition Leader.