THE Government has given its first indication of a timeline for bringing the third supplementary estimates to Parliament, which will make way for the payment of salary arrears pay due to thousands of public sector workers, for whom wage arrangements have not yet been settled.
Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke told the Jamaica Observer this week that “my hope is that we will be in a position to table and pass the third supplementary estimates by the end of January to put us in a position where the back pay that will become due, upon agreement with remaining groups, can be paid prior to the end of the fiscal year”.
The finance minister noted at the tabling of the $30.4-billion second supplementary estimates in Parliament on December 6, that payments up to a maximum of $100,000 had been approved for public bodies, based on their requests, pending the finalisation of their review exercise. He said the process is not expected to be protracted, and that those entities that are not financed from the consolidated fund would not receive the full amount of back payments.
Following Parliament’s approval of the second supplementary budget, roughly 60,000 workers in Central Government started receiving their new salaries under the Government’s new compensation scheme in December, along with arrears due from April, when the agreement with their unions took effect.
There were rumblings across the sector about billions in allowances, already paid – now removed from the system – which the Government accounted for via deductions, as indicated on the new payslips issued in December.
There is still discontent among major groups such as teachers, medical doctors, and the constabulary, which has expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Government’s approach, insisting that it will not ink a deal until certain requests made of the Government have been honoured.
Dr Clarke stressed that, for the Government, this anticipated timeline for laying the estimates and making the payments is challenging, given that the 2023/24 national budget that is to be tabled shortly after.
“However, it is fiscally necessary as we cannot carry these large obligations into the next fiscal year without either jeopardising fiscal targets or delaying other critical expenditure,” he told the Observer.
Tabling the second supplementary estimates in Parliament on December 6, Dr Clarke pointed out that wage negotiations had not been settled with all the sector groups, which necessitated a third supplementary estimate in short order. Agreements were reached with several unions and staff associations on the structure of the new compensation system, to settle payments to the vast majority of the sector.
He also promised that information on the Government’s new compensation scheme for the public sector would be provided to Parliament, once negotiations with central Government groups are completed, with the tabling of the new Establishment Act which will outline the details of the salaries for all positions in the public sector.
The minister urged the Opposition not to “make perfection the enemy of the good”, as spokesman on finance Julian Robinson again pressed for details of the compensation review. “It would be much better if we did this after everyone has signed. That would be the easiest and cleanest way to do it, but unfortunately due to the fragmented nature of the bargaining process, as desirable as that outcome is, it’s not one that can be practicably achieved,” he said.