The Government and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) have signed a new 12-month Heads of Agreement for a four per cent wage increase for approximately 50,000 public-sector employees, for the period April 2021 to March 2022.
The agreement also provides for a one-off $40,000 payment to civil servants earning up to $1.5 million per annum, and retroactive payments going back to April 1.
Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr. the Hon. Nigel Clarke, and JCTU President, Helene Davis Whyte, signed the agreement during a brief ceremony at the Ministry in Kingston on Friday (October 29).
Representatives of JCTU member unions attending also signed the document that will cover approximately 50 per cent of the public-sector workforce.
Dr. Clarke said the agreement was “significant” against the background of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that caused 10 per cent economic contraction in the 2020 calendar year and just under 11 per cent for fiscal year 2020/21.
He said this resulted in revenue inflows declining and rendering the Government unable to commence implementation of the proposed public-sector compensation review this year, as initially planned.
This, the Minister pointed out, is considering the need to programme expenditure to address the pandemic, particularly its impact on the most vulnerable.
The Minister said this scenario was presented to the JCTU with the proposal for the review’s deferment to 2022/23, to which they agreed.
The review will seek to address inequities and disparities in the salary and fringe benefits structure across the public service.
“I am deeply grateful to the Confederation for their understanding of this position that the Jamaican economy and the Government is in. That understanding has allowed us to focus with a fierce degree of momentum on making resources available to attack the pandemic and to provide support for the vulnerable,” Dr. Clarke said.
Noting that COVID-19 has resulted in delayed payments to government employees in several other countries, Dr. Clarke said the Government is “proud of the fact that we can actually provide an increase in compensation to public-sector workers, in the midst of the pandemic”.
“The increase may not be what we would have wanted, had the pandemic not occurred. But under the circumstances, it represents the best that the Government of Jamaica can do, given the need to also provide resources to address the impact of the pandemic on the health system and on the vulnerable,” he noted.
He pointed out that this new “holding” agreement provides the “bridge” that enables the Government to work assiduously with the JCTU and the other unions representing public-sector employees, not yet signing the document, towards commencing implementation of the compensation review.
He advised that the Government is ready to make payments for this year to the other public-sector employees by December, “if we can reach agreements with the remaining [bargaining] groups”.
“This is going to be very important for us to achieve our goal to begin the implementation of the compensation review in April. If we carry over payments that are for this year into the next fiscal year, it will compromise the Government’s ability to begin [that process],” the Minister indicated.
“We want to work with the other unions and bargaining groups to fast-track the completion of the negotiations for this year, so that we can be in a position to make the deeper, more fundamental and structural changes that will improve the experience of working in the public sector,” he added.
In her remarks, Mrs. Davis Whyte said the provisions in the agreement represent “the best that we could have gotten under the circumstances [COVID-19]”.
“One of the things we sought to do is focus on those persons who are at the lower end of our salary scales in the public sector, because of what we know they [were undergoing] as a result of the decline in the economy. I think we have come away with an agreement that, [even] if they are not happy, they are comfortable with,” she said.
Mrs. Davis Whyte said the JCTU, and its affiliates are also looking forward to the commencement of the compensation review.
Dr. Clarke and Mrs. Davis Whyte, who is also General Secretary of the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO), also thanked State Minister in the Finance Ministry, Hon. Marsha Smith, for her role in brokering the agreement.
The 11 JCTU member unions are the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU); National Workers Union (NWU); University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU); Union of Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP); Jamaica Workers Union (JWU); United Union of Jamaica (UUJ); Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA); Trade Union Congress (TUC); Jamaica Union of Public Officers and Public Employees (JUPOPE); Union of Schools’, Agricultural and Allied Workers (USAAW); and JALGO.