Clergymen caution against unrealistic public sector wage hike
WHILE RECOGNISING the plight of public-sector workers who have foregone salary increases to keep the Government's economic programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) afloat, senior members of the clergy have cautioned against any action that would render the years of sacrifices made by them null and void.
Reverend Everald Galbraith, president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, told The Gleaner on Wednesday that many Jamaicans have made tremendous sacrifices over the past seven years when the Government implemented the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) in 2010 followed by the National Debt Exchange (NDX) in 2013.
The JDX, which was a precursor to the signing of an IMF agreement in 2010, extended maturities, reduced coupon rates and reduced government interest payments. The JDX involved a debt swap of J$702 million worth of domestic bonds while the NDX represented its successor.
"The sacrifices we have made, I frankly believe that it would be unwise, to the point of being reckless, to have made so much sacrifices and to get to this point now to throw all of that away," Galbraith reasoned.
He said public-sector workers had endured a wage freeze for a long time and have had to contend with the increasing cost of living. While admitting that it must be "very hard on workers and pensioners", the clergyman argued that "we can't just think about today or tomorrow, but have to consider the years ahead".
Reverend Galbraith encouraged the Government and various bargaining groups to "sit down like big, responsible people and talk".
He urged the Government and public-sector workers to try and resolve their differences "face to face" rather than making public utterances through the media.
The senior man of the cloth said that the last six years have shown that while workers can be demanding, they have also demonstrated an understanding of the economic dilemma facing the country.
In his comments, Bishop Alvin Bailey, president of the Jamaica Evangelistic Association, said the current negotiations reflected a degree of profiling and a matching of power and wit. "A lot more can be done in private, in boardrooms and negotiation rooms where aggressive, assertive and firm negotiation can take place," he said.
He said the unions needed to reflect a greater degree of professionalism and responsibility in their negotiations.
"If necessary, there needs to be a special mediator or tribunal that calls the entities, weighs the figures and really be realistic and responsible in their approach to rewarding public-sector workers."
Bishop Bailey also questioned whether large companies were paying their taxes and thereby enabling the Government to better meet its obligations, including payments to public-sector workers.
Speaking at a ceremony held on Oxford Road on Wednesday, the Reverend Dr Orville Neil suggested that the push by the public-sector workers for greater remuneration could come at a price. He indicated that it could lead to the lock down of the country and its attendant social unrest, as well as the introduction of an entirely new dynamic of rising inflation arising from such wage increases. It could also lead to increased pressure on the dollar to cope with increasing demand for consumption goods.
"What is not often appreciated is that this new dynamic could also result in worker layoffs, greater insecurity, and family dislocations," he added.
In a broadcast to the nation on Sunday, Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips said the Government could not afford to pay more than it had offered to public-sector workers. He said the Government would be fiscally reckless to borrow more money in order to pay higher wages to public servants.