The claim of a 75% increases in public service pay over the past four years is yet another of the ingenious claims of the APNU+AFC government. There have been no such increases across the board.
The APNU+AFC is contending that since it came into office it has increased public service wages by 62%. It has arrived at this figure almost in the same manner as it has contended that 34 is the majority of 65.
In 2013, the PPPC administration had established a baseline minimum wage for all workers in the country. Such a minimum wage did not exist at the time. It was set at $35,000 per month. The reality, however, is that very few public servants, if any at all were working for $35,000 per month.
When the PPPC was booted out of office in 2015, the national minimum wage stood at around G$39,000 but the public service minimum wage was G$50,000. It is now $64,000 an increase of 28% and not 62% as some may be deceived into believing.
For the lowest level workers, public service wages have increased by 28%. Because of the sliding scale increases, those at the top have increased by less. So if it is now being said that with the forthcoming increases public service minimum will be capped at 75%, it can only mean that the minimum pay in the public service, consequent upon this week’s announcement will be around $87,500 or an increase of 36.7%.
But we know no Finance Minister, election season or no election season, is going to grant an increases in the minimum wage in the public service of 36.7%. That is not going to happen at all, so all the fancy footwork which is being played with umbers should be ceased forthwith.
We were told earlier this month that oil production was likely to commence by Christmas, four months ahead of schedule. If this materialises, then it would mean that the government would be entitled to a full quarter year of oil revenues which it may not have been anticipating.
ExxonMobil had projected that the annual oil revenues would be around US$300m. A quarter of this would be US$75M or $15 billion, enough to allow for a living wage to be paid and sustained.
It is high time that the government addresses the issue of a living wage for public servants. The annual wages increases which are being paid to public servants are being eroded by inflation.
The government says inflation is low but the prices in market, including for rents and transportation, reflect a different reality. Whatever is paid each year as an increase is being eroded by inflation and real ages therefore have hardly increased.
One way of settling the dispute about inflation is for a more transparent system to be put in place which can be monitored by the unions within the public service and by the private sector.
The Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service (2016) avoided the issue of a living wage. It resorted to a human resources approach to the issue of workers’ compensation. The Report of the COI called for the development of a base pay programme (read minimum wage) which would ensure workers are equitably paid in relation to what their counterparts receive in similar positions in the country.
What this really means is that instead of one minimum wage there should be a base pay for every level of employee and this should be measured in relation to what others in similar positions in the private sector.
One observation of the COI which has not yet been addressed is the practice of some senior public servants receiving a higher wage than the maximum in their scale. These people’s wages should be ‘red-circled’ since as the Commission notes it could imply that they are being overpaid.
There is no reason why instead of offering annual wage increases, the government cannot offer increases which would eventually merge with a living wage adjusted for realistic inflation. There is no reason why also the government cannot set base wages for the different levels in the public service rather than the present situation whereby some contracted employees are enjoying super salaries which even some of the top CEOs in the country are not receiving.
Oil revenues offer the opportunity also for some workers to be treated differently. Teachers, nurses and policemen should be receiving far more than they are presently receiving and far more than junior public servants.
By the way, an increase in public service wages is not something that is contemplated under a caretaker administration since it is a decision which binds any succeeding administration.
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