Golding vows he won’t cut public jobs

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Prime Minister Bruce Golding is moving to allay mounting fears that widespread job cuts are looming in the public sector.

Golding had previously promised that public-sector jobs would be protected despite the worsening financial conditions facing his administration.

But that failed to satisfy trade unions representing civil servants. The unions have argued that with the planned almost 20 per cent cut in its expenditure budget, the Government would have no option but to send home some workers.

“Based on reports going around, it appears that there may be cuts in the public sector and we would be opposed to that,” Vincent Morrison, president of the National Workers’ Union, told The Gleaner yesterday.

“We have heard the prime minister say no job cuts but the prime minister has said many things in the past and they don’t hold, so the memorandum-of-understanding monitoring team is seeking a meeting with the Ministry of Finance to ensure that there are no surprises for the workers,” Morrison added.

But Golding yesterday told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum that the commitment given to public-sector workers would be kept.

“We gave a commitment that we would not cut the civil service and this is in relation to this fiscal year. It was in part, a trade-off for the position we had to take that we would not be able to pay the seven per cent wage increase,” Golding said.

“To the extent that (the promise not to cut jobs) from our standpoint was part of what we hoped would have been a bargain, we have to maintain that,” Golding added.

But the prime minister noted that the decision not to cut the civil service would not prevent a reduction in the number of persons employed to state entities.

According to Golding, the Government is prepared to look at possibilities but these would have to be voluntary.

“They could involve early retirement with full pension benefits or they could involve voluntary redundancies,” Golding said.

“As to how much that would yield in terms of contraction, it is difficult to say. I have asked Dr (Wesley) Hughes to look at it in terms of a programme which we would be able to discuss with the unions representing public-sector workers,” said Golding.

But the prime minister made it clear that the country could not continue to carry a public-sector wage bill which was almost 11 per cent of its total output.

He had previously announced that the plan, over the medium term, was to move that figure down to under nine per cent through a mixture of staff cuts and economic growth.

“Because that is the only way that you are going to free up some money to do the things that Government is supposed to do. Government is not simply there to employ 117,000 people,” the prime minister quipped.

Golding noted that the public-sector wage bill jumped from $84 billion to $125 billion in the two years of his administration and argued that this was an area in which his Government could be fairly criticised.