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MOU: major opportunity to unite: Trade unions seek clarity

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2010 | 1:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

With the Government and trade union leaders slated to begin talks on a new memorandum of understanding (MOU4), there are questions marks about whether any new deal will be hammered out.

In fact, trade union leaders appear divided on whether MOU3, signed just under two years ago, is dead or alive.

However, all the union leaders appear to agree that the Government must change its attitude to the public-sector workforce ahead of the signing of a new labour agreement.

President of the National Workers' Union, Vincent Morrison, argued that Prime Minister Bruce Golding put the final nail in the coffin of MOU3 with his announcement of a two-year wage freeze a fortnight ago before speaking with the unions

"MOU3 has lost its shine, it has definitely lost its validity," declared Morrison. "When the Government can announce a wage freeze without consultation with the partners, it doesn't make sense," Morrison told The Sunday Gleaner.

However, he harbours hope that life can be pumped back into MOU3.

"We believe that it is an important document; it can be resurrected if the Government has the will," Morrison stated. "The Government has a choice - they need to decide if they want the document or not."

However, Wayne Jones, president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association and Kavan Gayle, president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, contend that MOU3 is alive.

fringe benefits

"MOU3 is a collective labour agreement. The unions must have that, no matter by what name it is called," asserted Jones.

According to Jones, MOU3 is a process that goes beyond the realm of salary and fringe-benefits issues.

He cited other important facets to MOU3 which would continue beyond the lifespan of the agreement.

These include skills-training programmes; tertiary-education assistance programmes; tidying up of the appointment process in the public sector; cross training between the private and public sectors; reform of the pensions-administration system; and, review of the staff orders.

"It is definitely not dead," Jones asserted.

Gayle agreed: "It is far from dead, but there are some concerns that must be addressed before we can proceed," he said.

These include Golding's pronouncement in Parliament two weeks ago that public-sector workers would be stuck with a wage freeze.

According to the trade union leaders, the Golding administration seems hell-bent on terminating the agreement prematurely.

wage freeze

According to Morrison, the trade unions have been left out of the loop by the administration.

Gayle suggested that in going forward, the prime minister must address the sore issue of the planned wage freeze. "I think it is premature to make the announcement before talking to the unions."

Gayle stressed that the Govern-ment needed to state in clear terms what it was attempting to achieve.

He complained that in one breath the Government spoke about cutting the public sector, and in the next, it referred to a wage freeze.

"What is it that they really want?" Gayle queried.