Public sector workers are at odds with the Government over what they term a minuscule offer of five per cent wage increase over two years.
They have outrightly rejected the offer, and have staged sit-ins and sick-outs to express their disapproval of the single-digit increase.
Political and financial analysts are divided on whether it would suit the Government to make a higher offer. The governing party is caught between a rock and a hard place with International Monetary Fund targets to meet, local and general elections on the horizon, and disgruntled public servants to deal with.
While the majority would agree that the public servants deserve a better salary increase, the most important issue is being avoided: The issue of income generation to pay civil servants and honour debt obligations.
The country relies heavily on tourism and remittances. Sugar production has been ailing for the longest while, banana is struggling, bauxite has died, Air Jamaica was sold, and the list goes on. The path the country is on is leading into darkness, with a sliding dollar and a government debt-to-GDP at 132 per cent in 2014, and a national debt of more than $2 trillion. The dollar keeps losing ground to the three regularly traded currencies.
In 2008, it was J$72.23 to US$1. Now, it is over J$117 for US$1 and counting. Our money is just circling within our four walls and losing its strength. There is not much money coming in from exports to grow the economy, with crime and violence scaring away investors. The cost of production is also too high, hence we are behind in competition.
We need to stop and look at why Bermuda can offer a starting salary of US$70,000 per year for a police officer, Trinidad and Tobago US$36,000 per year for an assistant teacher, Singapore US$20,400 per year for a registered nurse. What is it they are doing that we are not? Will we continue to borrow to pay workers and debts?
It is simple: If our expenses exceed our income, then we will always be indebted to our lenders and public-sector workers will always be on the side of have-nots. Teachers, nurses, and police officers will not think twice to take up job offers in other countries.
The onus is primarily on the Government to steer the country along a path that is comforting to its citizens and inviting to visitors, not one that forces educated migration because of the Government’s inability to create an environment of growth.
Public-sector workers are now being forced to take the new offer of seven per cent or risk being out of a job, joining the thousands of Jamaicans already unemployed.
When all is said and done, the reality of the situation is that the Government cannot afford to grant the amount of increase the public-sector workers are seeking. This is a result of not being able to grow the country’s economy to facilitate better standards of living for its people.