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Avellon Williams

KINGSTON, JAMAICA- As the parties try to reach an agreement on terminating motor vehicle duty concessions as part of a revised salary package, public sector employees hope the government will immediately settle outstanding claims under the 2021-23 agreement.

Onil Grant, /Image, Twitter/

Onil Grant, Vice-President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), head of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), said there is nothing wrong with the July start date for new salary payments, which will combine the concession benefit. However, Grant said it would be best if the outstanding payment claim were handled simultaneously with – if agreed – the implementation of new compensation packages.

Grant stated, “We are going to have to work very hard to ensure that there is standard acceptance of the items under the compensation review and that the interests of the Government and the employees are aligned [but] we do have an active claim with the Ministry of Finance that is being disturbed by the move by the ministry to absorb allowances into salaries.”

He added, “We want to settle that claim as quickly as possible… because, if not, there is going to be a gap year [where] we have no agreement, and we can’t allow that to continue.” 

Ultimately, Grant explained, the longer the claim has been outstanding, the more back pay there will be.

“We hope the ministry would organise itself to settle that matter whilst we are still talking about the compensation,” Grant said.

Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke. /Image, LTTN/

Meanwhile, the JCTU – the umbrella body of unions representing public sector employees – is still mulling over compensation review documents it had requested from the finance ministry following indications from Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke that the motor vehicle duty concession would be discontinued. The JCTU initially characterized the proposal as an attempt to divide and rule its member unions.

“We at the confederation, and our individual unions representing various groups across the public sector, are going through those documents to make sure that we are seeing what the minister has indicated to be a real improvement in wages/compensation for public sector workers,” said Grant.

According to him, the unions are also waiting for more information on some of the assumptions used to determine the revised compensation scheme.

“There are some assumptions that we are lacking that the ministry would have used when they were absorbing these allowances into salaries, and we have asked for those assumptions so that we can compare apples to apples,” Grant said.

He further explained, “If an assumption that has been made by them is not one that we find is a fair assumption, then we will have a discussion with them about that because we don’t want things to be factored into the compensation that would make it less than [if] they used a different assumption.” 

Regarding consultations, he noted that the ministry had indicated it wanted to “fix what went wrong” to ensure the unions are on board.

/Image, UNI GU/

In response to the question of whether salaries can be sufficient to make up for the loss of the benefit, the JCSA president pointed out that the 20 percent duty concession is calculated in a standard way.

“We have to use what is referred to as the standard vehicle, which is what the typical public sector worker buys. So, we researched, looked at what is the most demanded vehicle that public officers buy, and we use that to determine what is going to be the standard rate of duty, and that feeds into the various allowances that workers get when they are traveling officers,” he explained.

/Image, SJC/

The individual officers’ affordability determines whether they purchase below or above this standard vehicle, but there is a cap on the US dollar value of the vehicle that can be purchased, relative to their duties. Among the benefits are exemptions from customs duties and other fees that usually apply to vehicle imports.

To make salaries and other emoluments more equitable in the public service, the government said restructuring public sector compensation will cost more than $100 billion over the next three years.

At the beginning of the 2022-23 budget debate in March, Finance Minister Clarke told Parliament that $17 billion of those funds will go towards certain categories of allowances.

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Avellon Williams

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