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Monday, March 26, 2012

IMF no longer a monster, say unions

TRADE union representatives have said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should no longer be viewed by the public as a monster as the outlook of the international body has changed.
Speaking for the labour unions which met with a team from the IMF last week in preparation for a new loan pact with the Washington-based institution, Senator Kavan Gayle of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), said the Fund had reached the stage where it now allowed governments to set measures while it monitored and evaluated what targets had been met.
Gayle's remarks suggested that the IMF had reached full circle in Jamaica from the 1970s when it was widely seen as an oppressor of Third World countries, on behalf of the United States and other Western powers wanting to keep them dependent through severe austerity measures.
Gayle also described the meeting of stakeholders with Fund representatives as "fruitful", saying that the discussions were quite significant and should help in shaping any future IMF agreement.
"In terms of future agreements there would be a situation where at least the IMF would have had the opportunity to feel the pulse of labour, and while we expect and anticipate that there are austerity measures to be taken, in any form of these agreements the parties would have to understand that there are other security and social issues that have to be presented to the public to also alleviate the burden of the austerity measures," he said.
He explained further that the IMF team left the meeting with a clear understanding that the labour force understood the issues and shared a set of common goals going forward.
"...And so in terms of crafting an agreement it would ensure that our recommendations would have been taken into consideration," he told the Observer.
Vice-president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) and head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, Danny Roberts said an important point which was borne out to the IMF team was the need to ensure that sufficient protection was given to the poor and vulnerable.
"I think they have accepted that and they did indicate that in the existing agreement there is a 25 per cent adjustment in the PATH programme, but certainly for us there has to be a more comprehensive look in terms of social protection policies," Roberts said.
While the issues of future wage and fringe benefits negotiations for the public sector were not discussed, Roberts said some general challenges were placed on the table.
"We didn't drill down on those discussions, but we think there is a greater appreciation which is why we raised the question of the social protection, because certainly for us the IMF policies have variably been contractual policies," Roberts said.
He said that both the IMF and the JCTU shared a general appreciation that the Jamaican economy needed three critical factors going forward — the need to deal with the country's debt crisis, unemployment and sustainable growth.
Roberts said the unions were equally pleased about being able to convince the IMF about the importance of labour market reform to become much more adaptable to the changing global circumstances.
"This will address issues such as education and training, areas of social protection... quality jobs, social dialogue, all seen as important parts of our labour market reform agenda that has to be pursued as a basis for sustainable growth," he told the Observer.

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