FOLLOWING the handing down of the 2017 budget, the government has made a number of important decisions relating to the movement of Papua New Guinean public servants pay in the three year period 2017-2019.
The main three year industrial awards for the public service, the teaching service and the police force expire at the end of 2016.
The government will be operating against a deficit budget in 2017 and has had to trim back pay rises for the next two years.
But in the expectation that government income from rising world commodity prices will progressively improve, a mid-year review of pay and conditions can be considered in 2018.
If the financial situation has improved sufficiently, a further pay rise could be implemented in 2019.
The government will be requesting that the public sector unions show understanding and reduce their claims against the state in view of these financial difficulties and that they should look forward to a return to better times when commodity prices are higher and growth in the economy improved.
During the period 2009-2014, times were good and the government passed on improving living standards to its public employees. Free education and health services were introduced, benefiting union members.
Substantial pay rises averaging 7.5°/o per annum were also awarded in the six years 2011-2016. These increases were structured to favour the lowest paid.
As a result, over the six year period, the average earnings of the lowest paid workers increased by 75% and average public sector pay rose by 55%. Police constables, teachers and nurses all witnessed pay increases of a higher magnitude over this period.
In 2010 the lowest paid public servants were earning K320 a fortnight and today they are earning K600 a fortnight (+72%).
Likewise, the entry salaries of base grade teachers increased from K390-K900 a fortnight (+125%), base grade nurses from K450-K820 a fortnight (+85%) and base grade police constables from K600-to Kl,050 a fortnight (75%).
I want to take this opportunity to remind non-clinical health workers who were threatening to go on strike that they received a significant increase in their pay over the past six years under the awards negotiated by the Public Employees Association.
The government has also had to fund staff increases in the key sectors of health, education and law and order in addition to meeting the cost of pay rises.
Staff numbers will continue to increase over the next three years resulting from the need for more teachers, more nurses, more medical staff together with planned staff increases in the disciplined services.
The government must keep the pay bill at sustainable levels in line with projected revenue. For this reason the government has also directed that there will be a freeze on reorganisation, engagement of non-essential staff and non-essential payments through government payrolls.
A number of agencies will be amalgamated and staff transferred in order to generate cost savings
Industrial peace and harmony across the public service, the health service and the disciplined services is crucial during the election year in 2017 and the international APEC year in 2018.