How clever and slippery is our Chief Minister. He appears to have convinced representatives of States employees that he has reopened negotiations over 2009 pay and public sector cuts, when nothing could be further from the truth. In the words of the report (JEP 12th August) “they won’t budge over £4m cuts and the pay freeze”.
Negotiations may take place, but they will be “within policy”. That policy, decided not by the States, but imposed by the States Employment Board (SEB) and sanctioned by the Council of Ministers, is simple: there will be a pay freeze and service cuts. These are not negotiable; the Chief Minister is just playing for time.
It will surely not take long for union representatives to realise that they have again been misled by Senators Le Sueur and Ozouf. It is highly unlikely that a meeting between representatives and SEB can take place before the first week of September and yet the Business Plan will be in place and set in concrete by the 22nd. Such a timescale makes real negotiation impossible.
Earlier in the year, whilst the Treasury Minister presented zero pay awards as the norm on the basis of zero evidence, the Chief Minister was equally slippery with the facts in debate over the pay freeze in the States. He presented comparisons which purported to show not only that public sector workers were better off than their counterparts in the UK, but that they were also better paid than those in the private sector in Jersey. His figures were designed to mislead.
To start with, he failed to compare the cost of living in Jersey and the UK before comparing wages. The best data can be obtained from the Jersey Household Expenditure Survey (HES) 2004-5. This reveals that the cost of living in Jersey is a massive 46% higher than the UK. This is the benchmark for any real comparison of wages, and yet it was not mentioned in the report to the States.
Figures presented by the Chief Minister suggested that public sector workers were far better off than their colleagues in the UK. On average Jersey States workers were 39% better paid. This does not make them 39% better off. To be better off, Jersey workers would have to be paid at least the benchmark figure of 46% more to match the cost of living here. They are in fact 7% worse off.
Similar remarks could be made about the figures presented for comparison of Jersey public and private sectors in order to justify a pay freeze. For example, public sector nurses are supposed to be 1% better off than their private sector colleagues. The data reveal that they are in fact 6% worse off. In the meantime recruitment and retention rates for nurses are hitting all-time lows, an entire ward has been closed because of staff shortages, and a waiting list is looming for cancer treatment.
The Chief Minister may sit back and think he has got away with his handling of a pay freeze for the moment, but he is merely storing up long-term pain as a result of his short -term political gain.