Pensions

Passage of pension Bills delayed for Shaw to meet with trade unions

Passage of pension Bills delayed for Shaw to meet with trade unions

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

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MINISTER of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw is to meet with representatives of the public sector trade unions on issues creating a prolonged delay in passing the public sector pension reform Bills in the Senate.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith told Friday’s meeting that although no date has been set for the meeting with Shaw, she is hoping for a meeting sometime during this week due to the urgency of the Bills.

“We are hoping that they will be able to coordinate next week to have the meeting in order to take the matter forward, so that it will return to us in a more cooperative context,” she said, to loud applause from Opposition senators who were asking for a second delay in passing the Bill.

She also noted that there was a need to pass the Bills prior to the next review of the Government’s stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and that the fiscal economic circumstances did not support continuing with a non-contributory Government pension scheme.

The Bills — The Pensions (Public Service) Act, 2017, and The Constitution (Amendment)(Established Fund) (Payment of Pensions) Act, 2017 — seek to establish a defined benefit contributory scheme to which all pensionable public sector employees will contribute five per cent of their salary, and remove the constitutional provision for a non-contributory pension fund for these workers, respectively.

The Opposition called for another delay in response to the requests from Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) member unions who say that they are not satisfied with some of the proposed amendments. Several of the leaders of these unions sat in the gallery while the debate proceeded.

Senator Johnson Smith’s closure of the debate Friday, which followed several weeks of discussions and delays in completing the process, was delayed to accommodate two more Opposition speakers — senators Sophia Frazer Binns and Wensworth Skeffery.

Following their contributions, Senator Johnson Smith closed the debate, going through the Government’s 25 amendments, which were mainly in response to the initial concerns raised by the Opposition, when the Senate last met on July 28. But the Government eventually agreed to postpone the vote to accommodate the Opposition members, after Opposition members insisted that they were not satisfied with the response to their concerns, and asked that that the finance minister meet with the member unions of the JCTU.

Senator Johnson Smith said that the Government acknowledged the call made on behalf of the trade unions regarding their desire to be comfortable with some of the provisions in the regulations which had been included in the amendments it presented.

Some of these amendments, she explained, included draft regulations which would affect the determinations of the police, judicial and public service commissions regarding the separation of the public servants from their posts and their qualification for pension, as well as investment options for the pension fund, including loans for growth, and the percentage of the funds which can be retained in foreign currency.

One important amendment, she noted, was a change to the Employment Termination and Redundancy Payment Act (ETRPA), to ensure that it is only when an officer’s post is abolished, and the person is no longer in the public service that the provisions of the ETRPA would apply.

“So, the other circumstances of termination in the public service will continue to be dealt with in the applicable public service regulations under the Constitution. So it is only if he leaves the public service that the ETRPA will apply,” she explained.

Senator Johnson Smith called for a suspension of the sitting for her to discuss the issues with the ministry. After a 45-minute delay, she returned and made the announcement of the decision to delay the vote.

She said, however, that the Government felt strongly that it had made significant efforts to keep the process of passing the Bills an inclusive one, where people feel and understand that their perspectives have been heard.

“And that we have fully explained matters where they have not been clear and provided information where it has been requested, whether it has been financial or cost data in respect of the cost of pensions now, or other related matters,” she stated.

“So we feel that it would be a disservice to all those efforts, were we not to take just a bit more time to ensure that a level of comfort is had,” she stated.

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