Orville Taylor | Labour wrong but Labour’s right
Delayed apologies to the leader of Opposition. However, my commentary from last week was already in press by the time he had announced that he would have forgone 80 per cent of the increase which, controversially it seems as if Cabinet, via the minister of finance, approved unilaterally.
Truth is, there ought not to have been any delay; because decisive leadership required at that moment a strong and definitive rebuff. Inasmuch as the general secretary and opposition spokesperson on national security had uttered their discomfort, we needed to have heard unambiguously and early, that there was the strongest disapproval regarding what looks like a sudden and shameless increase in pay for parliamentarians.
Rewind to a few months ago when president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), La Sonja Harrison, stood against the tide and decided, contrary to the position taken by the majority of her delegates, that she would not be signing off on the final wage agreement between the JTA and the government of Jamaica.
Harrison’s move was a brave one. I recall publicly stating that, in the process of collective bargaining, it was unusual for the leader to go against the wishes of the majority or those who democratically represent the majority. It was also my disclaimer, however, that history alone will tell.
Well, apparently, history is much shorter than one would think, and the sociology is far more instructive. Many experts in labour management relations, and in particular those who have a deep understanding of the public sector, knew without any doubt whatsoever, that attempting to conclude all of the public sector negotiations and the classification exercises in such a tiny window was not only impossible but also fanciful.
SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER
The experts who advised the finance minister and those holding the hands of the education minister should have known better.
Without an appropriate mechanism to fix the problems which had to arise, one didn’t have to be the prophet Capleton or Marcus to see the short-term fallouts.
Harrison and her small crew of loyalists, some of whom were in great angst, as they felt wrong-footed by counter elements, now feel vindicated, and thus seemed to have legitimate backing for the timed industrial action taken by the teachers.
For the record, despite the provisions of the Education Act and the Staff Orders for the Public Service, the principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining are sacrosanct. The International Labour Organization (ILO), through conventions 87 and 98, defends the rights workers to not only participate in collective bargaining but to withdraw their labour in contemplation or furtherance of industrial disputes.
Yet, it is somewhat disturbing that the truth lies somewhere between the communication from the minister of finance and the JTA president. Open dialogue is an integral and indispensable part of collective bargaining processes. Having a grievance or area of discontent is not the same as having a dispute. And one cannot have a dispute, unless the opposing side has been given an opportunity to reject one’s position.
This is the case whether one is using a legal standard or simply common human decency and courtesy. The finance minister has publicly stated that the JTA president engages the media and social media but doesn’t reach out to him. However, she declared that letters were written seeking dialogue. It should be noted nonetheless, that if there is no dispute, which is a known disagreement over a rejection of one’s position, then there is no industrial action and thus, it is simply workers walking off their jobs.
The militancy of the JTA and others, including the Jamaica Police Federation which meets in two days’ time, is justified, given the humongous increase the government has given to itself.
Moreover, the decision of the opposition leader to forgo the majority of the increase and the prime minister’s one step up by disavowing the entire increase do little to quell the unhappiness of the hard-working public servants. After all, around 60 people who, using a content analysis, are less qualified than the upper echelons of the public sector, are now disproportionately better off than they are.
Something smells like the ruling ‘Jamaica Party’ might be losing the trust of Labour. It is never good for an administration to do so.
In this interesting game of cards, which looks like poker, the prime minister has shuffled the deck; and I shall leave it up to your imagination as to whether or not a Jack, queen, ace or joker has fallen out of the pack.
Back to where he cut his teeth, Floyd Green is back in charge of agriculture along with fisheries and now mining.
Still, there is a glimmer of hope. Pearnel Charles Jr has taken on the labour ministry, carrying on the legacy of his father.
It was Pearnel Sr who first took action on the ILO’s study, which pointed to the evils of contract work. Karl Samuda left lots of unfinished work. Let’s see what Junior will do.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.