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Press reset button on civil-service wage talks

Published:Monday | May 18, 2015 | 5:07 PMMark Hylton

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The dialogue surrounding public-sector salaries has to be reordered. I just do not see how the Government can offer civil servants much more than the five per cent increase being offered. Equally, I just do not see how the Government can expect understanding and a cooling off in the temperature of the discourse and antagonism by civil servants in the context of the continued waste of resources and improperly coached pronouncements by ministers, whenever they speak of the Government's inability to pay more.

It behoves the prime minister to have her ministers schooled in diplomacy and political correctness if we are not to endure a long, torrid summer of disaffection.

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding alienated civil servants with his supercilious and ill-advised, "Everybody wants their pound of flesh," retort, in response to the then request for better salaries. Such comments do not engender goodwill and buy-in from the stakeholders.

Beyond the salary negotiations, I do not generally entertain sympathy for the Jamaica Teachers' Association, which I consider a bad formula for education and development in our nation. As a matter of fact, something has to occur to break the backbone of the retrograde, single-minded and self-serving characteristics of the JTA.

However, the salary negotiations must be facilitated in an atmosphere of respect, understanding and measured defence of the macroeconomic objectives.

Civil servants, particularly teachers, nurses and the police, have performed under adverse and debilitating conditions for decades. Nonetheless, they will have to hold strain for quite a while longer if we are to pull this nation from its precipitous race down a dark abyss of socio-economic malaise.

The Government, however, would be best advised to reorder the conversation, by first restraining the arrogance and then coming to the table with meaningful concessions in the areas of housing loans, education grants, motor vehicle acquisition, and pension benefits.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller may take the first step by assigning Minister Julian Robinson to the finance ministry, with responsibility for civil-service negotiations. The civil service has to be transformed. The temperament, juxtaposed with competence, is crucial to securing the objectives.

This matter of transforming the civil service is critical to Jamaica's economic development and restraining our characteristic institutional corruption and nepotistic tendencies, which are fettering the development of our socio-economic space.

MARK A. HYLTONmarkahylton@yahoo.com

Bogue, St James