Unions Divided on Gov't Wage Offer
The Jamaican public sector union movement is at a major crossroads. The Ministry of Finance initially offered a 6% wage increase over 2 years, combined with a goal of reducing the proportion of public sector wages to nine percent of GDP. Dismissing those numbers as insulting, workers and unions snubbed the Ministry across the board.
With just days left to reach an understanding, key unions are still refusing an updated offer of a 16% increase over 4 years. The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) as a whole signed with the consent of JALGO, BITU, NWU, the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) and other unions. Among other considerations, these unions stand to benefit from a guarantee of back pay in March.
However, the Union of Schools, Agricultural and Allied Workers (USAAW) was not satisfied with the terms, demanding a net increase of twenty percent from the poverty-level wage of 6000 JMD per week. Additionally, the University and Allied Workers' Union (UAWU) rejected the government's offer due to an unsatisfactory wage increase and no changes to benefits. Dissatisfied with the JCTU's decision, both unions broke away from the confederation. Alongside the USAAW and UAWU, the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) and Jamaica Police Federation refused to accept the Ministry's deal.
Workers, unionists and Socialists in Jamaica must carefully analyse the context of the wage offer. The Jamaican dollar fluctuates in value but has a tendency to depreciate. Moreover, the Ministry's flattening of real public sector wages coupled with the aim to is part of its commitment to the International Monetary Fund's long-term strategy of public sector reform. This can be interpreted as nothing else but shrinking the public sector workforce.
This round of dialogue with the Ministry and the unions must end by March 3. Given the facts on the ground and the urgency of situation, we must take a bold position. Through their consistent defense of workers' interests, the leaderships of USAAW, UAWU and JTA have shown themselves to be at the vanguard of this wage struggle. Either through political weakness or willful abandonment, the JCTU as an umbrella organisaton has taken the side of capital over labour; in particular, it has taken the side of the IMF, of imperialism. We must also scrutinise the BITU and NWU, the very unions which created the JLP and PNP (respectively). Their bipartisan selling-out can never push workers' power forward.
As such, we must commend the USAAW, UAWU and JTA for their determination. Workers in all sectors and industries must call on the JCTU to follow their example and unite for the common cause. They must call upon its member unions to never let up until real gains are won.