After several months of negotiations and more than a dozen drafts of a new wage deal, the Jamaican government has finally reached an agreement with most of the island’s public sector trade unions that will see civil servants getting a 7% pay hike and increased benefits.
The majority of unions and associations bargaining with the Portia Simpson-Miller administration under the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) umbrella have signed the Heads of Agreement for the 2015-2017 period.
Under the new deal, public servants whose salaries include allowances will get an additional J$48,000 (US$410) annually, while those who do not get any allowances, will get an increase of J$68,000 (US$581).
Prime Minister Simpson-Miller said 12 items from the 2012-2015 agreement with the unions were still to be finalized, but she disclosed that the new deal includes increases in benefits, including meal, taxi and subsistence allowances, death benefits and funeral grants, and a J$45 million (US$384,944) fund for tertiary education grants for children of public sector workers.
She said the signing was “a culmination of a process of dialogue, mutual respect, consultation and understanding” and commended the public servants representatives for their patience and understanding of government’s current economic programme, which did not allow for bigger increases.
President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association O’Neil Grant said he was satisfied with the outcomes of the negotiations.
“I think we went as far as we could go and we got as much as we could, given the current economic situation that the country finds itself. There are some things that we would have wanted a bit more on, but in the spirit of compromise and to able to reach an agreement, we had to give in on some things,” he said.
Among the increased allowances are an almost doubling of the funeral grant for permanently employed public servants who die in the line of duty or after a prolonged illness. It moves from J$220,000 (US$1,881) to J$400,000 (US$3,421). The amount has tripled for those who die from natural causes – from J$100,000 (US$844) to J$300,000 (US$2,566) –, while funeral grants move from J$80,000 (US$684) to J$120,000 (US$1,026) for employees who are part-time employees who worked a minimum of 156 days in a year.
The death benefit for public servants who die in the line of duty also moves from J$8 million (US$68,434) to J$10 million (US$85,543).
Grant said in addition to the increases in salary and benefits, civil servants will get access to cheaper loans.
“We have a lot of officers in the service who have over committed themselves, particularly to micro lending institutions, and the interest rates from these agencies tend to be a little bit higher because of the risk attached to it. So, what we have done is ask the Ministry of Finance to assist these officers . . . to redeem their high-interest rate loans from micro lending agencies for three per cent on the reducing balance payable over two years,” he said.
That provision will be implemented by November 2015. Eligible officers will have to apply to the Finance Ministry.