A vicious chain reaction has started, aided by no less than the government itself through its austerity budget.
I have talked about the ramifications of an austere budget and talked about the need for the government to revise its views of economic rationality, but nothing seems to get done.
Until when can the march of errors be sustained? Reviewing the budget, one can see only promises of doom.
The government threats became credible following a series of callous actions. It first refused to grant teachers their promised pay increase, citing budgetary constraints. The teachers, not listened to and fearing loss of livelihood and dignity, struck nationwide. Suddenly, the government realised that they were a force to reckon with, 105,000 Jordanians (7 per cent of the labour force) who, with their families, made up almost one-tenth of the population. Consequently, the government backtracked, but only after it threatened to bring army and security personnel to replace the teachers, another folly that created mistrust between it and its largest cadre after the security apparatus.
The domino effect started: Government nurses threatened to strike over salary restructuring, and the government will agree a compromise.
It is not rational to restructure salaries of people whose expenditures and spending habits have expanded with the increase in pay over decades. Such restructuring should be done with sensitivity to their conditions and constraints, and if done, it has to be implemented over many years.
Other groups with legitimate worries for their livelihoods threatened to strike: Gas station operators raised the strike banner over the ambiguous fuel pricing strategy, bakeries over wheat prices and distribution, retail shops over the mistakes in the tenants law and electricity prices, hospitals threatened to raise fees due to the increase in electricity tariffs which were ill timed in the midst of a cold winter; truckers raised the spectre of strike over cargo fees, thus threatening economic paralysis; and so on.
And these people will strike if the government does not go back on its policies or fix them.
Even buyers of real estate, a sector that is considered the linchpin of the economy and directly affecting 36 other sectors and over 160 types of goods and services, struck in their own way. They voted with their money not to buy anymore.
But with strikes, income decreases, fall in the FDIs (and these foreign direct investments did indeed fall by 60 per cent from two years ago), tourists not flying in, remittances staying in host countries economic activity and the GDP will drop too.
Strikes also encourage street rebellions and people unrest (especially youth, and 62 per cent of the population is made up of youth) for becoming temporarily or permanently unemployed, and thus violence grows.
With the fall of the GDP, the government will collect fewer fees and revenues, and its budget deficit and debt will grow, while people will become poorer and angrier.
Is this what the government wants? I do not think so.
But why did the government assume such a tenacious stance?
Maybe no one told it of the Arab Spring and that the fear line has been crossed, and once crossed, it is like the Rubicon, there is no return.
Old-school dialogue no longer works, the conversation needs to improve. The government has to listen, show empathy and work with the vulnerable, for they have little to lose.
The government may have neither the capacity nor the wisdom to act correctly, in which case, it should make room for dialogue for those who have both and listen to them.
By the way, what became of the recommendations of the Social and Economic Dialogue Committee? Is it now passé’? It hasn’t fully served its purpose yet, and the storm that brought the dialogue has only slightly calmed.
It could be that the government is used to the old tactics of doom, but people are alert to this tactic, which usually preceded fee and tax hikes. People want a government that improves their welfare.
In short, this government has to learn the art of dialogue. It must listen and engage all in a fruitful and respectful dialogue. Otherwise, the chain reaction will continue, a scenario that nobody wants.