KINGSTON, January 6, 2018 - Jamaica's industrial relations climate is expected to deteriorate over the coming days, amid signals that there could be widespread sickout in the public sector next week, as nurses, doctors, police and teachers are not satisfied with government's offer during their ongoing salary negotiations.
The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) has rejected the government's claim that it cannot provide more than a six percent wage increase over two years for public sector workers.
The Confederation in a media briefing on Friday to officially outline its opposition to the offer, said if the government offers more, it will not derail the economy in the wake of growth in various sectors.
JCTU Vice-President, Oneil Grant said the government's wage offer is an insult to public sector workers.
The Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) and the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) say the government's tone in the wage negotiations is having a negative effect it is having on their members.
The groups have been intensely agitated for the negotiations to proceed and have threatened or engaged in some form of protest.
NAJ President Carmen Johnson told Radio Jamaica's "beyond the Headlines" current affairs programme, that the process has left a bad impression on her association as it seems the government is "not serious about negotiating."
She complained about the lengthy delays between meetings and the months of waiting to get a response from the government.
"Then when you go to that meeting expecting that they will come back with a revised offer, with something else to tell you they begin to play with numbers to say three and three is six, four and two is six," she bemoaned.
She added: "All we are being told is that we must remember that the IMF says and that they are working under constraint and they must keep it at a nine per cent GDP ratio."
Meanwhile, the NAJ is reporting that one of the contested points of discussion in its negotiations with the government is the increased income tax threshold of $1.5 million.
According to Ms Johnson, although it is forming a part of the negotiations, it is not applicable to many nurses.
The increase in the threshold means that many nurses who earn below that amount would not pay income tax.
However, Ms Johnson explains that this benefit is wiped away once nurses work over a certain number of hours.
"When they do overtime, what (happens is) it pushes them in the tax threshold and so you now pay tax. So though you give it with one hand, by the next month, you're taking it back with the other hand," she lamented.
In the meantime, Co-chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Keith Duncan Duncan believes that the country needs to ask itself whether it is willing to change the economic targets in order to achieve wage negotiating success.
Duncan has warned that the Government's strategy regarding wage negotiations needs to change immediately to prevent a loss in productivity.
He says creative ways need to be found in the negotiating process, and adds that a decision is needed on whether to amend the targets or stick to them.
“If you go anywhere north of that three percent, what you are going to be doing is breaching that fiscal rule. Are we as a country and public sector ….and we can argue for days….are we willing to breach that target or amend that target once again? It speaks to our credibility.”
Head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, Mona, Dr Orville Taylor, agree that the negotiating process is flawed.
Taylor acknowledges the restrictions placed on salary increases due to International Monetary Fund (IMF) targets, but argues that negotiations can still be successful while keeping within these targets.
“There is a negotiation process and there needs to be creater levels of greater creativity. So there are ways to make the day to day economic expenses of the public sector workers easier, without breaching the nine and a half percent target that they are looking at. It is indeed possible .
Taylor an experienced academic on labour matters, expressed his disappointment on the tone of the wage negotiations, sharing details on where he thinks improvement is needed.
“I am a bit disappointed with the entire process. The represenative from the Ministry of Finance is a seasoned trade unionist who understands the history of negotiations and collective bargaining . I’m not seeing enough creativity in terms of what can be done….what I am hearing is - I can’t see any better….
In the meantime, Opposition Spokesman on National Security Fitz Jackson, is again urging the Prime Minister to meet with the Police Federation to ease the unrest among rank and file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) over wage talks.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Jackson said he was concerned that the Prime Minister had not agreed to a meeting date with the Federation.
Instead, he said the Prime Minister has merely responded with a notice to refer the matter to Cabinet, which he added should have already been aware of the matter.
He urged Mr. Holness to meet with the cops as a matter of urgency to ascertain what would result in a resolution.