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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Clarifying public servants services

Caswell Franklyn

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Clarifying public servants services

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AS I GO around on a daily basis, I am being approached by many public servants seeking clarity on some aspect of their terms and conditions of service.

Some of them specifically suggest that I write articles on their particular concerns.

However, before I respond to some of the queries, it would be remiss of me if I did not congratulate the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) for securing the appointments of over 400 teachers. Whether you like or loathe their executive, this time around they have done what they were elected to do. It is noteworthy that these appointments were done without subjecting teachers, who were performing adequately for years, to a process that included interviews.

I am sure that other temporary officers in the Public Service would be happy for those teachers. But customs officers in particular must be wondering what they have done wrong, since they are in the same position as the teachers had been and they are being treated differently.  In the teachers’ case, the authorities recognised that it would have been an injustice to force long-standing teachers to compete for their jobs.  On the other hand, it appears that the same authorities have no compunction about visiting injustice upon customs workers.

The blame might not rest entirely on the shoulders of the administration; maybe the BUT might just be showing the other bigger unions how to represent their members.

One of the major concerns of public officers is that of supersession. Unfortunately, my advice does not provide much comfort to those who believe that they have been superseded. To my mind, supersession occurs when someone takes the position that rightfully belongs to another.

Under the Service Commissions (Public Service) Regulations, 1978, supersession was easy to identify, and if the regulations were breached, the affected officer had grounds to appeal.  In some cases the decision was reversed.

Those fair provisions provided a barrier to politicians and senior public officers who were intent on catapulting their friends and family into positions that they did not deserve. So acting on the advice of senior officers and much to the delight of the political class, those fair provisions, that restricted supersession, were replaced by the Employment and Recruitment Code, which forms part of the 2007 Public Service Act.

The code sets out a procedure that, as currently interpreted, places more emphasis on a one-off interview, rather than on the former procedure where a candidate’s employment history was used to determine his suitability to fill a higher post.  Officers who feel that they were superseded now have no basis to mount a challenge because

 it will be argued that all applicants had an equal chance at interview.

The only good thing about the new procedure is that the Arthur administration that put it in place, in its dying days, never got the opportunity to use the weapon that it devised. The cruel irony is that the then Opposition thought that the proposed act was unfair and refused to participate in its passage. Now that the roles have been reversed the current administration is wreaking havoc on the lives of deserving public officers by using the new procedure to stack the Public Service with its supporters especially at the managerial level.

Another area of great concern to public officers is when the Governor General, acting on the advice of the Public Service Commission, interdicts a public officer from duty on half-pay, pending the outcome of a disciplinary charge. Recently, I came across a case where an accused person was interdicted on half-pay in excess of three years, contrary to the provisions of the Code of Discipline in the Public Service.

Space does not permit me to delve deeper into this area but I just wish to point out to those involved that paragraph 4. (8) of the Code of Discipline only allows the Governor General to interdict a person on half-pay for a period of not more than six months.

Sub-paragraph 9 allows the Governor General to extend the interdiction beyond the initial period of six months, if the matter has not been determined but the full pay must be restored.

Without an increase in pay for more than six years most public officers find it difficult to live on full pay. Imaging the horror that is being visited upon an accused person who is on reduced pay for years and who would eventually be found to be innocent. Somebody needs a heart.

Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: [email protected]