Public Sector Employers Urged to Foster Closer Relationships With Employees
State Minister in the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Fitz Jackson has implored employers to foster closer relationships and dialogue with their employees during the period of the recently signed Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between government and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, representing public sector workers.
Mr. Jackson fielded questions on details of the MOU at a sensitization seminar with Permanent Secretaries, Executive Directors, and other public sector interests at the Ministry's Heroes Circle offices on Monday (March 29). "In this period of the MOU, it is critically important that we seek to develop the best working relationship that we can foster between the management within the agencies and the line staff of the Ministries and agencies," the State Minister advised, adding, "given what the workers have agreed to forego over the period, the least that we can do as employers is to be cooperative as much as possible particularly where it does not involve any expenditure on the government's side".
He further pointed out that discussion and dialogue with those who were affected could go even further than monetary expenditure in dealing with the many issues that would affect employers and employees in the work environment.
Mr. Jackson also challenged Human Resource Managers not to disengage themselves from the process of dialogue with the staff and to "lead the way in your various agencies to improve the relationship between employee and employer so that we can realize greater efficiencies in our departments and enable the workers to be more cooperative in this period of restraint and collaboration that we seek with them".
He underscored that the MOU would succeed or fail depending on how each department of government ran its operations. "If we don't realize the levels of savings that is required, we are not going to realize those reductions in expenditure that we desire to bring about the balance in the government's fiscal numbers," he said.
Addressing concerns over increases in utility rates and how public sector employees would fare, given the freeze on salary increases, Mr. Jackson reminded that any adjustments in utility rates was determined by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR). However, he said in carrying out its mandate the OUR was required to be cognizant of all issues occurring in the economy.
Responding to queries by Executive Director of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, Dr. Omer Thomas, as to whether fees charged to customers could be realigned to implement cost recovery, Mr. Jackson said agencies were allowed to do this where necessary although this would not be encouraged where the fees represented revenue. He noted that the specifics would vary with each agency and could be referred to the monitoring committee.
Clarifying concerns over retroactive amounts due prior to the period of the MOU, Mr. Jackson stated that agreements and obligations, which were already in place, due before April 1, 2004, would not be affected by the MOU. However, new rates for new labor contracts that would take effect post April 1, 2004, would be deferred to April 1, 2006. These amounts are not cumulative.
Mr. Jackson noted that the fact that the MOU involved contracts to be negotiated, contracts being negotiated and contracts already negotiated, gave real meaning to the agreement. He said the MOU was "not just a fancy document. It is a document that deals with substantial meaningful adjustments".
The State Minister said that within the parent Ministries of certain departments such as the Fire Service and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, issues would be dealt with on a needs basis.
He pointed out that government had not set out to "micro-manage" sectors of the economy through the MOU and that it was for this reason that the permanent secretaries had been engaged. "If there is a special case to be made, that is a matter that would also appear through the monitoring committee," he said.
Responding to concerns voiced by head of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Commissioner Hevol Benson, regarding shortfall in resources to carry out its functions efficiently, the State Minister said the Ministry recognized that special considerations would have to be given to essential services such as the Brigade.
"An effective fire service is critical to national development. We have to ensure that provisions are in place for optimizing the capability of the fire service," he stated.
Mr. Jackson also responded to questions raised by Deputy Executive Director of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Thomas Burton as to the challenges of having to continue operations utilizing a small complement of extension officers. "Any situation which is considered exceptionally grave or injurious to the fulfillment of your mandate. we would take on a case by case basis," he declared.
He emphasized that the targets or parameters contained in the MoU represented what was expected to be achieved in the normal course of the two years and did not include unforeseen circumstances. "If we had a hurricane or an earthquake, those are exigencies that would have to be dealt with and the resultant challenges. Outside of those abnormal things, we expect to achieve these targets," he explained.
Mr. Jackson urged Executive Directors and Permanent Secretaries to take the initiative to interface with their counterparts in other agencies where there was a sense of duplication to avoid such duplication and to advance cost effectiveness.
The government representatives of the Monitoring Committee comprises: Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Omar Davies; Minister of Labor and Social Security, Horace Dalley; Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Shirley Tyndall; Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Dr. Wesley Hughes; Solicitor General, Michael Hylton; and Director General in the Office of the Prime Minister, Dennis Morrison.
Meanwhile, committee members representing the JCTU are: Vice President of the JCTU, Senator Dwight Nelson; First Vice President of the University and Allied Workers Union, Lambert Brown; President of the Civil Service Association, Wayne Jones; President of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, Valda Lawrence-Campbell; General Secretary of the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers, Helene Davis-Whyte; General Secretary of the Union of Schools Agricultural and Allied Workers, Keith Comrie; and Island Supervisor of the National Workers Union and Vice President of the JCTU, Vincent Morrison.