Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Editorial | Gov’t’s move on back-pay welcome

Published:Friday | March 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We, as is the case with teachers, and the trade union movement, generally, welcome the Government's clarification that a five per cent retroactive payment would be made to teachers this month without prejudice to ongoing wage negotiations.

The Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), the union for state-employed teachers, had rejected the administration's offer of a 16 per cent wage hike over four years, retroactive to April 2017. This newspaper was among those who were critical of the Government's declared intention to pay the first year's retroactive amount of five per cent this March, even though the talks had not ended.

It was being suggested that because of the Government's fiscal obligations under its agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including its need to lower the public-sector wage bill to nine per cent of GDP, that if the payment was not made before the end of the current fiscal year, it could not be accommodated until 2020.

Notwithstanding our sympathy for the Government's fiscal obligations and our urging of public-sector wage restraint, we disagreed with the administration's tactic that seemed to carry a whiff of union-busting.

In that regard, the clarification by the finance minister, Audley Shaw, that the retroactive payment would be without condition, or any prejudice to the talks, is welcome. Hopefully, both sides will get back to the bargaining table in good faith. The teachers' union, which has been under pressure from some of its financially hard-up members, has, on that basis, accepted the retroactive payment.

However, we again remind teachers, most of whose public-sector colleagues have accepted the Government's wage offer, of the delicate state of Jamaica's fiscal health and urge restraint and responsibility in their demands. Jamaica has sacrificed too much over the last six years to bring its fiscal house in order to squander it now.

 

ABILITY TO PAY

 

Therefore, any pay hike to teachers, and other public-sector employees, should be predicated on an ability to pay - which requires open, frank negotiations - and a willingness of workers to link higher salaries to increased productivity. Indeed, it can't be beyond teachers and the Government to design a formula for performance-based remuneration and an end to across-the-board hikes.

At the same time, we continue to believe that there are creative ways for the Government to compensate public-sector workers beyond digging into the Consolidated Fund.

We have, for instance, previously raised the idea of the Government bringing to the markets, through IPOs, some of its better enterprises, and offering public-sector workers equity in lieu of increased pay. Workers should seek to immediately monetise their holdings by selling shares on the market, or hold them for capital gains and/or dividends.

Such a scheme would not only address the immediately problem of pay, but expand a shareholding class, as well as bring greater depth to Jamaica's equity market. That can't be a bad thing.