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Appointments of key, strategic positions in the public service, such as permanent secretaries and heads of departments, made directly by Prime Ministers or Heads of State are acceptable since they emphasise performance.
According to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Dr Nanda Gopaul, this trend takes away the permanent nature of public service employment and brings it into the realm of a performance appraisal system for contracted periods. He added that this type of appointment gave the government in power a desirable comfort level.
Gopaul made this statement while delivering a presentation on employment and collective bargaining in the civil service at the Caribbean Labour Administration Conference held at Le Meridien Pegasus.
He went on to call for a radical reformation of employment procedures within the public service which would allow for a flexibility of employment for various categories of officials and also highlight how unwieldy and cumbersome the current situation was.
He also doubted that any public service in the region would become politically neutral in the near future.
According to him, whenever any one of the two main parties in any Caribbean country acceded to office, key appointments were made during that period of government.
He said very often these employees continued to function even after there was a change in government and here was where at times there were claims that the employees had not demonstrated loyalty to a new administration.
He added there was the problem of union leaders being openly aligned to certain political parties and when their party came to office they would take a soft approach at negotiations.
“This is a very unhealthy situation in the region and in fact in any country where political loyalty is given priority over issues that fall within the ambit of collective bargaining.”
Gopaul pointed out that in examining the situation in Guyana, one would find how the most modern pieces of labour legislation backed by international labour standards, for employment, termination and severance as well as trade union recognition ran in contradiction to the antiquated 1987 public service rules.
Gopaul stated that this would seem to support the position of the need for a comprehensive review of labour relations laws. He said once this was undertaken it would allow for unifying the employment legislation and change the outmoded standards which existed in the Caribbean.
Gopaul stated collective bargaining in the public service could never be the same as that used in manufacturing or commerce. “Unions have sought in the past to force governments into submitting to their demands by virtue of industrial action. This has become more prevalent and fashionable in the public service.”
He added that it had resulted in serious economic and social dislocation within individual nation-states. He asked, “whether agreements arrived at under duress bring desirable outcomes and are in the interest of the state and other sectors of the economy?”
Further, Gopaul stated that unions had been unable to promote collective bargaining with respect to wage increases in the public service to the fullest extent. He said in some countries disputes would be subjected to the investigation of a committee of commissions of inquiry which would present its report to parliament for ratification. This would seem to be one of the acceptable ways which would allow parliament to finally adjudicate on the issue of allocation of funds for wage increases.