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PM, unions to meet. Lay-off of civil servants on agenda for discussion

The Jamaica Gleaner, 29 May 2000

PRIME MINISTER P.J. Patterson has agreed to meet representatives of at least 11 major trade unions at Jamaica House on Wednesday morning, to discuss a number of issues affecting the labour sector, including the continuing lay-off of hundreds of civil servants.

The Gleanerunderstands that among the issues the unions plan to tackle with the Prime Minister is the public sector reform process. This includes the complaint from civil servants about the loss of jobs, as well as the lack of discussions between the Government and their union, the Jamaica Civil Service Associa-tion (JCSA).

Other issues on the agenda will include: labour market reform; productivity and a proposed productivity centre to measure and set the parameters for productivity and the setting up of a labour college to prepare workers for the new developments in labour relations and technology.

The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), which is behind the meeting, represents all the island's major trade unions and workers' associations, except the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU) which has never been a member.

Spokesman for the JCTU, Danny Roberts, explained yesterday that the meeting is part of an ongoing process and should, basically, assess the state of the issues, which have been the subjects of discussions between the Government and the unions for sometime. However, public sector reform was only added to the agenda after the JCSA sought the JCTU's support last month in its dispute with the Government over the reform issue.

"There are some concerns about the whole communication process. The situation has been one of non-communication," president of the JCSA, Eddie Bailey, told The Gleaner yesterday.

He said not enough effort has been made to involve the workers in the process of planning changes in the sector, thereby leaving the unions with no option but "to go to the top" to resolve the issue.

The unions have also been concerned over the conversion of a number of government departments into executive agencies. These agencies are run along the lines of commercial enterprises. The JCSA contends that the new entities only give managers greater power to hire and fire workers.

The Registrar of Companies, the Administrator General's Department, the Management Institute for National Development (MIND) and the Registrar General's Department are the departments which have so far been converted into executive agencies.

In a release on Friday, the Cabinet Office said that in an effort to increase dialogue between the Government and the unions on the reform issue, quarterly meetings have been established. In addition, a retreat involving representatives of the JCSA is planned for Friday, July 7 to review the performances of those executives agencies.

Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Carlton Davis, said there was no organised plan for massive downsizing of the civil service, but that there would be incremental rationalisations as situations arise.

"The Government faces the task of bringing a deficit of minus 4.5 per cent, which is over $12 billion to zero in one year and it is trying to do it without following the advice and suggestions of outside persons, which include cutting the size of the public service," he said.

"It is trying to do so by achieving efficiency and effectiveness in the way we operate and by collecting more revenues," he said.

In terms of the other issues on the agenda for Wednesday morning's meeting, Mr. Roberts said the unions were concerned about labour reform process, which included the passage of a Bill amending the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA), which is expected to be piloted through the House of Representatives by former Minister of Labour, Portia Simpson Miller, later this year.

He said that the unions also wanted the Ministry to play a more important role in economic development, instead of concentrating on industrial relations and employment issues.

Labour education, he said, was no longer a trade union matter, but a societal one and productivity was a critical aspect of labour market reform.

"The workers need a structure which will prevent the shifting of resources from the poor to the rich, as is happening now and which has skewed income distribution," Mr. Roberts said.