JIS News

Sugar industry workers have been granted a 16.5 per cent wage increase for the 2006/08 contract period.Minister of Labour and Social Security, Horace Dalley, signed the agreement with the Sugar Producers Federation and unions representing the workers this morning (March 20) at his National Heroes Circle offices.
The agreement will provide for a 10 per cent increase this year and a 6.5 per cent increase in year two along with a 2.5 per cent crop bonus.
No crop bonus has been granted for this year, a situation that the unions representing the workers are still urging the government to consider.
There are also increases in clothing and meal allowances as well as improvement in the group life insurance scheme from $35,000 to $50,000. Other benefits include an increase in personal accident coverage from $70,000 to $100,000 as well as the formation of a pension scheme.
“In terms of medical facilities and hospitalization scheme, we are talking to the Ministry of Health to see how we can get some synergies out of the National Health Fund so we can improve the medical facilities and hospitalization programme that we have for the workers,” said Island Supervisor for the National Workers Union (NWU), Vincent Morrison.
Minister Dalley, in his remarks at the signing, noted that while the agreement was not the best at this time, both parties recognized the tremendous challenges facing the sugar industry and had pledged to work for its sustainability. “I appreciate those comments because the sugar industry is critical to many in this country,” he stated.
Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, who took part in the signing, also noted that the offer to the workers, while not the best, was “what the industry could afford at this point in time”.
He noted that the industry was faced with a serious decline in the price of sugar over the next few years. “One will understand that the workers will be the first causality in anything that happens that depresses the price and causes the industry to decline,” he said, adding that the government was hopeful of some assistance to reduce the fallout from the price cuts.
According to the Agriculture Minister, “efficiency and productivity must be the order of the day if the industry is to go forth”.
He expressed pleasure at the quick conclusion of the negotiations and commended the unions for the part they played in the process. “I can say with pride that since 1998, the unions have taken a very responsible stance in these negotiations and I want to really congratulate them for what they have done,” Minister Clarke remarked.
Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. Omar Davies, who also took part in the signing ceremony, gave a commitment that “whatever can be done outside of the formal agreement in terms of improving conditions for the workers, will be given consideration”.
“I have looked at the conditions and there are some basic things that we must do to ensure basic human dignity outside of an agreement and I welcome this as a first step but we recognize that this is not a last step,” he added.
Noting the role of the trade unions in national development, Dr. Davies said that, “even as we invite external investors to visit Jamaica, I have taken a decision that on each of these visits, I have asked them to meet with the trade union leadership”.