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FRANKLY SPEAKING: For public servants

Caswell Franklyn

FRANKLY SPEAKING: For public servants

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Subsequent to my column on the situation with respect to the proposed Central Revenue Authority, I have been bombarded by numerous calls from public officers seeking guidance and clarification on their plight.
From their questions, I have been able to conclude that a significant number of public officers have little or no knowledge of their terms and conditions of service.
The Barbados Public Service, as we understand it, can trace its roots, structure, conventions and rules from the British civil service. Originally the institution called the civil service was really the king’s service, and he had control over appointments and promotions.
As you would expect, appointments were made on a basis of patronage and nepotism. That system eventually led to widespread discontent which forced Parliament to set up a select committee in 1854 to investigate and make recommendations on the operations of the civil service.
The committee’s report made some far-reaching recommendations but the most significant was the establishment of an independent body to regulate the civil service. As a result, the next year, a civil service commission was established as an independent and impartial body whose role made it solely responsible for appointments to civil service offices, and to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding those offices.
Accordingly, the system which institutionalized patronage and nepotism eventually gave way to a professional civil service that is loyal to whichever party that forms the government.
The Barbados equivalent was established along the same lofty principles as the British. The framers of our Independence Constitution had the good sense to entrench the Public Service and three service commissions to ensure that the political directorate had no control over appointments and discipline in the Public Service.
However, the framers did not envisage that a breed of politician would have emerged that would be hell-bent on taking the Public Service back to the unenlightened days before 1855.
More and more politicians are setting up structures to get around the tried and tested independent, at least in theory, Public Service Commission. The latest power grab by the clueless politicians is the setting up of the proposed Central Revenue Authority. On the establishment of that body, the affected public officers can kiss goodbye their constitutionally guaranteed security of tenure.
The proliferation of statutory boards has ushered in a system where the minister with responsibility for the particular board effectively becomes the employing authority. It is obvious that our modern day politicians, who have no respect for constitutional niceties, prefer a system where public service employment is characterised by a system of political patronage and nepotism for their own benefit.
You might want to ask: why would public officers opt to give up posts that are protected by the Constitution for jobs that would place them at the tender mercies of some politician, who happens to be the minister for the time being?
The short answer would be that they have no choice unless they stick together and say a collective NO to this political madness. Contrary to assurances by the Minister of Finance, if enough people sign up to be employed by this unknown quantity, those who do not would be dismissed from the Public Service, simply because there would be no place to put them in an already overstaffed Public Service.
Prior to 2009, being dismissed from the Public Service for redundancy was not such a daunting prospect because displaced workers were guaranteed their pensions, at whatever age, until such time as Government provided suitable alternative employment.
All of this changed when the Caribbean Court of Justice made a ruling, without hearing arguments on the matter, which stated that displaced officers would have to wait until they reach 60 years of age or sooner if they died. With no unemployment benefits, severance payments or pensions, the prospect of sooner dying does not appear to be remote.
This problem has its genesis in an amendment to the Pensions Act in 1975. Prior to July of that year, any public officer who resigned from the service prior to reaching pensionable age did not qualify for a pension even if he had completed 30 years.
The then Prime Minister Errol Barrow thought that the situation was untenable and introduced legislation to Parliament which allowed persons to voluntarily leave the service and have their pensions stored until they reached retirement age.
That amendment was not intended to apply to persons who were forced out of the service through no fault of their own because of redundancy (abolition of post as it is known in the Public Service).
Section 13A of the Pensions Act provides, among other things, that a person would be entitled to receive a pension:
• on or after attaining the age of 60 years;
• on the abolition of his office; and
• on the reorganization of his office for any purpose.
You should note that the Pensions Act does not give an age for the receipt of the pension in cases of abolition or reorganization of office.  The current situation arose from either unintended consequences of a well-intentioned amendment or a misinterpretation of the relevant law.
My advice to public officers, who are faced with the prospect of either losing their jobs or losing their security of tenure, is that they would be justified in making a pre-emptive strike. In this case, do unto others before they do unto you.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.