Wed | May 31, 2023

Opposing senators call for reinstatement of public sector increments

Published:Saturday | April 1, 2023 | 1:19 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Kavan Gayle
Kavan Gayle
Lambert Brown
Lambert Brown

TWO SENIOR union leaders who sit on opposite sides of the parliamentary divide in the Upper House have closed ranks on a single issue to send a strong message to the ruling administration. Opposition Senator Lambert Brown and his Government counterpart Kavan Gayle want the Government to reinstate the annual increments previously paid to public sector workers.

Debating a bill to amend the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act in the Senate yesterday, Brown, who is also the head of the University and Allied Workers Union, accused the administration of unilaterally removing the increments to public sector workers under the compensation restructuring exercise.

Gayle, the president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, batted also for the reinstatement of annual increments to public sector workers.

“The matter in relation to the increments for public sector workers is something that the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions would have raised; would have discussed and we have agreed that the move is not in favour of the public sector workers,” Gayle said.

He noted that public sector workers “thrive on the increments”.

In his earlier remarks, Brown called on the Government to remove Circular 20 and restore the annual increments to every public sector worker.

Brown argued that there was no document or verbal agreement between the unions and the Government to remove the increments. “The public sector workers have contracted for those increments, no government badness, no government bullying can unilaterally remove those increments,” he declared.

But it was the substantial issue for which the FAA Act was being amended that saw the two union leaders parting company.

The FAA Act was being amended to repeal the wage-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio of nine per cent, which is currently in breach.

In her review of the Government’s fiscal policy paper (FPP) which was tabled in Parliament recently, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis recommended that the FPP should disclose the administration’s intention for the wage-to-GDP legislative target of nine per cent, given the current and projected breach over the medium term.

The debt-to-GDP ratio averaged 11.4 per cent of GDP over the medium term.

Commenting on the move to amend the FAA Act to remove the wage-to-GDP ratio, Brown said that because the target was currently in violation of the law and there was no indication that it would be corrected over the medium term, the Government decided to scrap it.

“It’s a case of instead of breaching the law, let’s do away with the law. I am worried about that approach because while I am not wedded to a nine per cent… our country, given our recent history, needs to have some guidepost which will allow us to work together, not to make the wage bill bigger than it ought to be,” Brown said.

But Gayle countered saying the Government was not changing a law because they did not like it, but noted that “on the present trajectory the law, if continued, will be an albatross”.

Gayle argued that the Government did not intend to abandon the rules.

“One of the things that we can agree on in this Parliament is that when it comes to fiscal rules, both administrations have adhered to promoting fiscal rules. And with that being said, we have a legislation that would have become an albatross in its continuity.”

The bill was passed with no amendments.