Traditionally, security of tenure has ranked highly on the agenda of trade unions. With the current emphasis on downsizing in the public service, this places trade unions in an uncomfortable position. While there is recognition of the need to reduce public expenditure and to promote efficiencies in the public service, this does not negate the efforts of trade unions to pressure governments to complete the process of the appointments of eligible public officers to vacant established posts.
Based on the fact that the distinct possibility exists that many public officers could work for a life time and exit the service without securing permanent appointment, this means that some public officers could by virtue of no fault of their own, exit the service without any entitlement to benefits. This raises some questions about the fairness of the system as it relates to the provision of security of tenure for all public sector employees.
A case can be argued that all public sector employees can make themselves eligible for appointment by meeting the eligibility criteria which generally starts with the acquisition of the required qualifications and work experience. The claim is sometimes made that some persons applying for appointment in the public service and private sector, are either overlooked, discriminated against or in some way disadvantaged.
This is not any easy charge to prove. If it is that some weight is applied to the principle of merit in the appointments process, then it would seem that this along with the requisite qualifications will remove a lot of the doubt that may shadow the process. It is to be expected that employees in both the public and private sectors, share an expectation of enjoying security of tenure.
Where there is this expectation and there is no right to security of tenure as expressed in a country’s constitution or in any labour legislation, then private sector employers and governments have no legal obligation to honour this condition. In the absence of any such mandatory direction, it means that the door is wide open to employment practices that would abrogate this right. It is highly unlikely that those who do not enjoy security of tenure, and/or who are continuously overlooked for appointment in an established post or as a full time staff member, will be motivated or productive within their employment.
In the case of private enterprise, security of tenure may not be necessarily offered to employees based on a condition of length of service. Appointments are more tied to a criterion which includes qualifications, core competencies and skills. These do not stand alone, as the factors of accountability and performance are linked to the other elements. Evidently, employers do not hesitate to erect a platform which provides for a highly qualitative and quantitative evaluation system in order to measure performance.
With increasing pressures being placed on trade unions to ensure that public sector workers enjoy security of tenure, maybe the time has come to propose that tenure should be assured to bureaucrats after serving an agreed number of years in the public service. It can be envisaged that this idea would not be embraced unless there were some conditionalities attached. This is understandable based on the assumption that to do otherwise, would be to encourage complacency.
It would therefore make good sense to have appointments in the public service tied to qualifications, core competencies, skills, performance and accountability.
In a labour market where unfair employment practices exist, there is merit in promoting security of tenure as a basic right of both public and private employees. This is a basic protective mechanism for all employees, for where there is security of tenure, it means that in case of regular employment, the services of any employee cannot just be terminated, except for just cause or after a due process.