We haven't found a pot of gold, Phillips cautions civil servants
Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
WHILE MAKING it abundantly clear that public-sector workers will not have to contemplate another wage freeze for the new financial year, Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips has also moved to moderate expectations of a significant wage hike, noting that the Government has not found a pot of gold.
"The workers signed on for a wage freeze, and the period of the freeze, effectively, has expired. There has to be some negotiations, which would include wage increases, but, obviously, it is not that there has been a big pot of gold that has been found in the interim. I believe the workers themselves understand the fiscal realities, and more than that, they signed on to the freeze in order to enable the country to correct its public accounts and the imbalances in those accounts," Phillips told The Gleaner yesterday.
Phillips said the Government would like to finish negotiations with the various bargaining units in the public sector before the start of the new fiscal year in April. He said if the target was not achieved, the Government could place a sum in the contingency section of the Budget to facilitate the payment of wages that might be settled after the Budget period.
The minister said wage talks are scheduled to begin this month.
Helene Davis-Whyte, vice-president of the Jamaica Confed-eration of Trade Unions, said some public-sector workers have indicated that they would want to have a wage settlement as early as possible "because they really need some kind of increase, so they would want us to try and settle as fast as possible".
However, she said this did not mean that public-sector workers would settle for anything just to keep a timeline.
"I don't think we can recover any lost purchasing power over the last five years in one fell swoop, and in fact, the kind of sacrifices that the workers have made, I don't think we would want to sort of kick over the bucket and start back at square one, but we want to be clear as to the path we are going down, and we want to be assured that there is going to be some light at the end of the tunnel," she told The Gleaner.
EXPEDITING THE PROCESS
Davis-Whyte said the unions representing public-sector workers have, in recent times, conducted centralised bargaining around items that go across the board for all the groups in the public sector. This approach, she said, expedites the negotiation process.
She divulged that the confederation has requested and received the economic data for the country.
"We have signed on to the target of keeping the wage bill within nine per cent of GDP by 2016, and so that will also inform the discussion."
She said the unions would also be guided by the Government's ability to pay, which is based on the revenue pulled in by tax authorities, inflation, and comparability.
Davis-Whyte also pointed out that if the Government wants to attract and retain the best skills in the public sector, it has to compensate those persons properly.