As the nation avoided potential islandwide industrial action across the public sector next week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness today (May 13) called for public sector workers to seek to resolve their labour concerns in a way that does not disturb the ecosystem and revenue intake of the country.
Holness said industrial actions such as strikes without notice can destabilise the entire country and destroy the gains that have been made, putting the country in a worse off position to address the issues of its workers.
Speaking at the official opening ceremony of the Area 4 Headquarters of the Jamaica Fire Brigade in Montego Bay, St James, Holness said that while the nation is faced with an ongoing pandemic and shocks from a war overseas, “we must not create shocks for ourselves”.
COUNTRY REELS FROM WEEK OF INDUSTRIAL ACTIONS
The prime minister added: “We must not bring crisis onto ourselves because the posture of the Government is not an antagonist one. The posture of this Government is to take on the challenges in a respectful way because we recognise that the power of the Government does not only lie in the authority of the legislation but it really lies in the people and when the people act reasonably, everyone benefits.”
The prime minister’s comments came as the country reeled from a week of industrial action by sections of the public sector, starting with the workers from the National Water Commission, then the island’s air traffic controllers and, today, the employees from the National Housing Trust.
In addition, the O’Neil Grant-led Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) had given a Monday (May 16) deadline for the Government to respond to concerns around the latest compensation package offered to the more than 30,000 civil servants represented by that union.
If the Government failed to address those concerns, the nation could have effectively seen a shutdown of various government services if the civil servants took industrial action.
But late this evening, the JCSA indicated it had withdrawn its strike notice after meeting with Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke.
Holness said today that he acknowledged the concerns of all workers and restated the Government’s commitment to resolving those concerns “through the well established principles of industrial relations”.
In that regard, the prime minister urged “everyone” not to take decisions that would disrupt the economy and the normal operations of the country.
“Our industrial relations, attitudes and behaviours, I believe, would have matured significantly over the last 50 years and I think that we can find ways, if necessary, to express our disgruntlement and our concerns for the government to hear, without depriving citizens,” Holness said.
He added: “We acknowledge and understand there is agitation but we urge reasonableness. Let us protect the revenues coming in because that is the very thing we are negotiating about.”
Finally, the prime minister urged that the country and its public sector workers “don’t go back to the last 50 years of contention”
He said: “When we come together and we sit around the table to negotiate, it is better for everyone.”