FORMER JAMAICA Civil Service Association (JCSA) boss, O’Neil Grant, says his most significant achievement as president was the union’s work with the Government to retain hundreds of public sector jobs. This, they did, by forgoing wage increases in the heights of the global financial meltdown, which had a severe impact on the Jamaican economy.
The immediate past president of the JCSA told The Gleaner that arduous and time-consuming work went into convincing the public sector workers at the time that agreeing to a wage freeze would go a far way in keeping the country’s economy afloat during the turbulent economic period.
“And for me that sacrifice that we made and our ability to make that significant contribution in keeping the country afloat during those difficult times, I think that would have been my greatest achievement. It is ironic that my greatest achievement meant that the workers would have had to endure a wage freeze,” Grant said in a Gleaner interview.
He hailed public sector workers who endured years without salary increases in 2011, as they made sacrifices to help the country recover from the global financial debacle.
Grant reasoned that the collective decision of the public sector workers was testimony to how the union was able to get its members to rally around a national cause.
“If we didn’t as a public sector and had pressed for wage increases, what we would have seen was not only a decimation of the public sector, but the country itself would have suffered badly because if we don’t have public service there is no way a government would have recovered from the economic shocks that we were going through at the time,” he said.
Asked how the union was able to get buy-in from the workers, Grant recalled that he told public servants the truth and did not “pretty up” the state of affairs at the time.
“We just told them the truth … the country was on the brink and if we were not ready to make the sacrifice for all of us then some of us will survive and the majority of us would have seen dark days,” he added.
Turning to the vexed compensation review, Grant said that public sector workers had hoped that there would have been greater balance in the compensation restructuring exercise.
“We tried to negotiate a cushion for the workers but it didn’t go far enough because you have 20 per cent net and with all that has happened now persons are looking on and saying we should have pushed more for the net increase in pay to be higher than 20 per cent.”
He noted that because the JCSA is not making a lot of noise over the outcome of the compensation restructuring, some might be misled to believe the union was satisfied.
However, Grant said that the union will use the negotiating table to fix the issues rather than take to the streets.
“We prefer to stay at the table and hammer it out rather than to go into the streets, but unfortunately, there are some things that have been done that would have provoked the ire of the workers,” he noted.
Grant accused the Government of breaching its memorandum of understanding by “injecting things into the agreement that were never agreed (to by the union) and those things have to be sorted out very quickly because if they are not the workers are going to continue to be restive and productivity is going to be impacted significantly”.
The former JCSA head said that his major disappointment during his tenure as president was the long time it took for the vexed issue of contract employment to be addressed by the Government.
It was an issue that Grant said he had been pressing hard to make a breakthrough since 2015.
“Even before that, I used to complain bitterly about how we treat contract workers in this country and the Government being a large employer of contract labour, if we had taken some decisions very early some of the problems we are seeing now would not exist,” he underlined.
Grant said he hoped the Government would quickly set the tone for the rest of the country in terms of how contract officers in the public sector are treated.