As Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary of Independence this year, the nation must demonstrate to the global community that it is capable of effectively managing its own affairs, without looking outside for buffers, said Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips.
“We cannot build a country on the expectation – much as we welcome support when we get it – that others have an obligation to pay for our own social needs. It’s not a realistic expectation. We have now reached the point where the rest of the world is indicating that they are not prepared to extend further support until we collectively demonstrate our resolve in this regard,” he stated.
Dr. Phillips was speaking on June 4, at the opening of a workshop on ‘Re-inventing Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector’, hosted by the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, the Ministry, and the Department of Management Studies, on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Stressing the critical importance of tackling the country’s debt problem, which he said, is among the major hindrances to economic development, the Finance Minister said that even as the government and unions representing public sector workers chart new ways of bargaining, “the future fortunes of Jamaica and how we deal with the debt, and the nature of political decision-making, must find itself once again as part of the main agenda of the labour movement."
This, he said, is essential if Jamaica is to chart a better future in the next 50 years than has been done in the past 50”.
He stated that part of the challenge is to effectively communicate to the nation that the debt problem, which has been accumulated over many decades, is a collective responsibility.
“The consequential problems are our problems…not the problems of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), or the bond holders. This problem does not belong to anyone else, and we have to deal with it,” he asserted.
Dr. Phillips lamented that the implications of the debt, in regards to development must be understood, as it stifles investment, makes the country more vulnerable to shocks, and suppresses the government’s capacity to engage in necessary development expenditure.
He urged “boldnesss and a willingness” on the part of all Jamaicans to confront the debt problem, noting that despite the level of cynicism among certain sectors of the society, in regards to measures to reduce the debt, the fact is that the opportunities that were offered by the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) and the first IMF Stand-by agreement had not been adequately utilised.
“But, despite that, the fact is that we need to set our debt on a downward path. We need to do it sharply, we need to do it quickly. We have to find a way to contain our expenditures and then put our finances in a better condition by earning more, producing more, so that in some short, determinate period of time, we are able to put our accounts in order,” Dr. Phillips told the gathering.
Other speakers included Opposition Leader, Andrew Holness; President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, O’Neil Grant, and Professor and Dean of the School of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois, Dr. Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld.
The three-day workshop seeks to explore methodologies to create a more efficient and less adversarial collective bargaining process in the Jamaican public sector, leading to more sustainable agreements through a clearer identification of common interests.
Among the main topics for discussion are: ‘Bold Vision and Harsh Realities’; ‘The Fiscal Context and Advancing Labour and Employment Relations’; and ‘Bargaining Over How to Bargain’.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Senior Reporter