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'Unions'side-step Government ruling

By Erica Virtue, The Jamaica Gleaner, 13 August 2000

THOUSANDS OF public sector workers who are represented by entities other than registered trade unions, have side-stepped the Government's new policy which bars public sector negotiations with non-legal entities.

Teachers, nurses, the police and civil servants say that they are not affected by Government's ban because they are either represented by registered companies or the law gives them authority to do so.

The Sunday Gleaner understands that there are 81 trade unions and associations registered with the Island Record Office at Twickenham Park in Spanish Town.

Although it could not be ascertained if all 81 are still functioning as trade unions, many of the larger representative groups are not registered trade unions.

Among those not registered are the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), Nurses Association of Jamaica and the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), which are listed instead as registered companies.

As a result, the majority of the island's 22,000 teachers, who are represented by the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), say the declaration of the Government's new position recently has not changed anything.

According to Eric Downie, a JTA executive member, the Permanent Salaries Review Board (PSRB) had written the association on August 8 on the matter of salaries.

"Unless told so, my view is that we are in the clear. We are a registered company and if the PSRB was instructed not to have any dealing with us, they would not have written to us," he said last week.

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said that the Government would no longer negotiate with non-legal entities, after the Appeal Court's dismissal of the Government's case against the Junior Doctors Association. The Appeal Court upheld the JDA's argument that it was not a legal entity and could not be cited for contempt of court.

Mr. Downie added that the JTA had not been told it is not a legal entity. Similarly, the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) said contrary to media reports nurses would not be affected by the Government's decision.

NAJ President Edith Allwood-Anderson said her organisation has been a registered company since June 1962.

She said Article 6 of the Memorandum of Association, one of the main objectives of the NAJ states: "The NAJ acts as spokesman for nurses/nursing in all that is pertaining to the profession and secure sole representation and bargaining right for nurses."

According to her, "Since 1978, we (NAJ) were granted full bargaining rights for nurses in Jamaica."

The NAJ represents more than 5,000 nurses in Jamaica.

Additionally, the Police Federation, which represents more than 5,000 rank and file members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), said it does not believe that it will be affected because it is a legal entity under Section 67 of the Constabulary Force Act.

"We are not affected at all," Inspector Michael James, chairman of the Federation said last week.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Anthony Irons, explained that the law allows some unions representing Central and Local Government workers to claim bargaining rights, although no representational rights polls were done.

Those bodies include the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO), and the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) which combined represent more than 20,000 workers.

However, when contacted last week, the public service arm of the Ministry of Finance could not give any information on the number of bodies with which it negotiates.

A spokeswoman from the office of Hazel Gibbons said "the Ministry was in the process of getting a list."

The Island Record Office said it could not furnish a list without a written request. That office said, however, that two lists had been requested, one for the office of Miss Gibbons and the other for the Ministry of Labour.