Trade union expert says public-sector workers might face another wage freeze
Trade union expert Danny Roberts has argued that public-sector workers should temper expectations as they head into another round of wage negotiations with the Government.
In light of the fact that the Government has reached a staff-level agreement for a new US$1.7-billion economic reform programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Roberts is of the view that this could constrain the fiscal space with which the Government has to work given the conditionalities to be expected.
The current four-year economic reform programme, which Jamaica signed with the IMF, has been described as the most austere by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the United States. The new programme is expected to demand similar austerity measures.
According to Roberts, who heads the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute (HLSTUEI), some amount of discord is to be expected in the impending wage negotiations given that the demands of public-sector workers for increased remuneration will be at odds with IMF conditionalities.
"These contradictions are going to play themselves out when the wage negotiations begin, because public-sector workers will have high expectations given that the programme is coming to an end. But the IMF has consistently raised alarm about the size of the public-sector wage bill and that is the only conditionality that was not met in this programme, so they might want it to be met in the new programme," he said in an interview with The Gleaner.
He further pointed out that the expectation of public-sector workers will be driven by their desire to be rewarded for the sacrifices they have made during the life of the economic reform programme, but said that the Government will be constrained in meeting those demands.
The trade union expert argued that the reluctance of the Government to commit to cutting the size of the public sector only leaves it with the option of depressing wages even further.
"If the target of bringing public-sector wages to nine per cent of GDP is to hold, and if there are not enough persons going off on retirement, persons resigning or leaving by attrition and the economy has not grown sufficiently, then you have very limited options. You either have to cut the public sector or reduce salaries. There are no other options outside of that if the numbers are not adding up," the HLSTUEI head added.
Roberts disclosed that the HLSTUEI will be seeking to facilitate frank discussions on what reasonable expectations public-sector workers should have going into the next round of wage negotiations.
The institute is set to host a public forum on the issue tomorrow at 1 p.m. The forum, which will take place at the University of the West Indies-based HLSTUEI lecture theatre, will feature minister of state in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Fayval Williams, as the keynote speaker.