Public-sector workers locked in four-year agreement
Echoes of the ongoing dispute between Government and public-school teachers was felt in Parliament yesterday when Opposition Spokesman on Finance Mark Golding accused Finance and Public Service Minister Audley Shaw of undermining the collective bargaining process by insisting on paying unsettled wage rates to teachers and other public-sector workers.
Cabinet had directed that public-sector workers, whose unions had not settled by a specific date, be paid the Government's offer for the 2017-2018 financial year by the end of March 2018. Shaw had indicated that retroactive sums from April 2017 would be paid in March and not carried over into the new financial year.
However, in his contribution to the Budget Debate in Parliament on Tuesday, Golding questioned the legal basis for making the payment, in the absence of a contractual arrangement to authorise it.
"These are public funds, and must be used in accordance with the law, and not as a tool to undermine the sanctity of the collective bargaining process. This happens in dictatorships and should never happen in our democracy," said Golding.
He charged that this move was a "big disrespect" to the unions and a violation of the International Labour Organization Convention 98 of 1949 to which Jamaica is a signatory.
Opposition member Horace Dalley also took Shaw to task yesterday over his tabling of the Financial Administration and Audit (Compensation) Negotiating Cycles) Order of 2018, which effectively locks government employees into a four-year negotiating cycle ending March 2021. Some public-sector groups, such as teachers and the police, have rejected the four-year agreement, insisting that they want to ink a two-year wage deal.
On the motion of adjournment, Dalley, the opposition spokesman on the public service, castigated Shaw for tabling the regulation without first completing negotiations with a number of public sector groups.
However, Shaw pointed out that the arrangement was part of the Government's macroeconomic objectives supported by the extended fund facility of 2013 and the 2016 precautionary standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.
Meanwhile, yesterday, public teachers affiliated to the Jamaica Teachers' Association entered the second day of their sick-out in protest of Government's refusal to improve its wage and fringe benefits offer. Many schools across the island were limping along without their full complement of teachers, and some closed their doors, despite contingency plans put in place by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.