Private sector employees are already discovering that annual pay rises cannot be taken for granted in the present circumstances. Some have already been told — and have accepted — that a pay freeze for the coming months is the only realistic response to such difficult trading conditions.
The same message has now been broadcast to the public sector. Speaking at a Scrutiny panel meeting last week, Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf made it clear that, in his view, States employees should no expect a pay rise during the 2009-2010 period. This, he said, was the only reasonable response to present economic uncertainties.
Similar principles underpinned a statement made earlier in the year by Economic Development Minister Alan Maclean, who promised a review of public sector staffing levels when the present five-year no-redundancy deal expires in June.
It is apparent from the comments of both ministers that the public sector is about to become a less comfortable and cushioned place of employment than has been the case for many years.
Working for the States might still offer levels of job security rarely encountered in the often harsher world of the private sector, but some of the old certainties could be about to disappear.
Although the unions have yet to offer a considered response to Senator Ozouf’s remarks about a pay freeze, his suggestion is bound to be deeply controversial and, if it becomes policy, could well be resisted.
Such a reaction would be understandable, but now is a time for everyone, union members and non-union members alike, to take a very deep breath before contemplating demands or action that threaten to worsen the economic situation.
As senior politicians have been eager to remind us, factors such as the core strength of the Island’s economy and the reserve funds at our disposal mean that we stand a far better chance than many other communities of surviving this downturn in a healthy condition.
That said, we cannot be complacent, and any measures that can improve our hopes of returning to our accustomed standards of prosperity when the credit crunch and the recession are things of the past must surely be welcomed and encouraged.