Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has warned that the current case within the Public Service where there are no appraisal systems to gauge the performance of civil servants can no longer obtain.
He made this clear yesterday at the end of talks lasting almost four hours between the delegations from the island’s two trade unions, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the National Conservation Commission (NCC).
Those parties had been at loggerheads for the past few weeks over the retrenchment of close to 200-odd NCC workers, with the labour bodies saying the agreed process of last in, first out had not been followed.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister told reporters that the system had been last used back in the structural adjustment period of 1991, because appraisal systems were not in place then.
“ . . . And marvellous to relate, over 20 years later, there are still not in place. This is a matter of grave concern to me across the Public Service that you cannot get people to sit down and write reports on the performance of the persons working in their respective departments; reports that can effectively guide those who make decisions to those employees,” Stuart said, noting that he understood some of the concerns that could arise.
“ . . . There is a difference between living in a country like Canada or the United States of America, or any of the larger countries, and living in a small, highly personalized society like Barbados where . . . you retrench a man today, but you go to church tomorrow [and] you have to look in his face, or when you go in the supermarket you have to meet his wife. That leads to a lot of caution; but it is really one of the perils of small and highly personalized societies.
“But as recently as Wednesday last, when I met with my permanent secretaries and met my heads of departments and so on, that is an issue that we were discussing. [It] is also a matter of concern for the Service Commissioners when issues relating to promotions come before the Service Commission, and somebody alleges that he or she has been superseded, and the explanation given is that the person was not superseded but the person was not the best employee or the best candidate. [When] the service commissioner asks for the evidence, there is no evidence,” the Prime Minister related.
He further noted that if there were any evidence that was presented, it would more often than not be all good reports.
“ . . . Because everybody is cautious of writing bad reports. We have to get those systems sorted out and you can be assured that that is a matter that is going to be engaging our attention. Performance appraisals and so on will have to become a feature of life in the Public Service whether in the Central Public Service or in statutory boards; and that’s the only way you are going to have a genuine meritocracy operating in the Public Service.
“Until we have that, you will have low performers and drones and so on slipping through the system and some of your better and more conscientious people suffering as a result, so that is matter that will be engaging our attention,” Stuart stated.
Regarding the current situation, the Prime Minister said that based on the evidence he had seen at the meeting, the NCC, though it had embarked on its retrenchment exercise as mandated by Government, had made “procedural missteps” that had to be corrected.
However, he suggested that this task should fall on the NCC and it was for this reason that the matter was to be referred the Employment Rights Tribunal this morning.
“I thought the safest thing to do was to have an independent body review the entire process embarked upon by the National Conservation Commission and to ensure that the procedure upon which the Government was assisting, the procedure of last in, first out generally, was applied and of course that in the whole process of applying the last in, first out principle that the operation efficiency and effectiveness of the Commission was not compromised.
“The independent reviewer is a statutorily constituted, independent reviewer –– the Employment Rights Tribunal. It is the Government over which I preside that passed the Employment Rights Act. It was not passed for purposes of ostentation; it was passed for use and this is one of those circumstances in which I have satisfied myself that the act can be put to effective use,” Stuart noted.
He said “the matter before us is not one that admits of any delay so as early as tomorrow the Labour Department will be referring this matter to the Employment Rights Tribunal. Based on what the tribunal is required to do, it should take [them] no time at all to determine who were the persons last in and who should have been the person first out”.
“Where any analysis will have to take places, and that discussion will have to take place with the trade unions and the National Conservation Commission, would have to do with how does the inflexible application of the principle affect the operation efficiency of the National Conservation Commission. Its application may not affect it at all,” the Prime Minister suggested.
He said he did not expect that the matter would be further delayed, given that that this would be the tribunal’s main priority.