Faced with a growing chorus of heart-breaking stories from workers who have been sent home as part of Government’s cost-cutting measures across the public service, Prime Minister Mia Mottley offered an emotional apology for her Administration’s actions.
“It is still not easy, but I apologize to you,” Prime Minister Mottley told a worker who was laid off as a stenographer from the Ministry of Commerce and is studying international relations with Spanish at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies.
It was during the first of a series of interactive sessions with students at the Cave Hill Campus that the woman bared her soul to Mottley, the Principal of the campus Professor Eudine Barriteau, other administrative staff and colleagues.
“I am happy that you spoke about education and your belief that that is our way out. I am a mother of eight children. I am also a student at the University of the West Indies pursuing a degree in international relations with Spanish. The thing is, I am also one of those stenographer typists who has just lost her job. How do I reconcile you giving me free tuition on the one hand and I am being laid off on the other?” she asked as her voice seemed to tremble.
The Prime Minister quickly responded by seeking to assure her that she would be one of the first people to be reemployed in January when the Government conducts its digitizing of the entire public service.
Mottley also told the mother she would be paid so she could support her family and herself until the end of the year.
“I don’t know how many different ways to say I am sorry . . . but what I do know is that the reason why we have taken this long and this much pain is that we want to make sure that there is an opportunity for you to earn a living.
“And for those who are not like you at university,” the Prime Minster said, “we feel that since there is a definitive timeframe to the digitization of Government’s records that the one thing we must do, is that during that two, three or four year period it takes to digitize those records for which the IDB [Inter American Development Bank] will help us pay, that we have to expose those persons to further training,”
In a further conciliatory note, the Government leader said that “joy cometh in the morning,” as she expressed certainty that Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment, Marsha Caddle, had been holding discussions with the IDB and working with technology companies to ensure that many retrenched workers are rehired.
“I give you the assurance, that not only will you be able to finish your education, but you must have an opportunity for work in this country. Mercifully, Ross University has said that they will give all persons from Government who have been laid off a five-day advantage on anybody else who applies to them, with respect to being able to hire them,” she said.
Mottley disclosed that Government was trying to do the same with other private sector employers.
Directing her comments to critics, Mottley said Government was not only letting go stenotypists and said there were close to 300 being terminated from the MTW, mainly men.
The Prime Minister also sought to disabuse the woman’s suggestion that those at the bottom were the ones taking the brunt of the retrenchments.
“I have said all along…I have said it to the point where…the bankers have cursed me…that the burden must be shared fairly. And why do I feel so…because for the last 10 years, the banks made $1.5 billion in profits at the very time you were not getting a salary increase as a stenotypist in this country for eight years. Now it bleeds my heart,” Mottley declared, adding that Government was establishing a household mitigation unit, “because I will not sleep well until all like you who have been the victims of layoffs in the country, are put back in a position to structure yourself, and you are living in a way that is credible and brings integrity to you and your family…and I give you that commitment,” the Prime Minister added to applause from the student body.
Mottley was also confronted with another public worker from the Land Registry who complained that her last day on the job will be tomorrow.
This mother of one, who is also a stenographer, warned the Prime Minister that with the termination of the stenographers, those employees left behind will struggle to handle the backlog of work and urged her to address continuity in these departments.
Responding to this issue, Mottley disclosed that during a break of Parliament on Tuesday, she met with all her Ministers and the other Members of Parliament to deal with those issues identified by the woman, who is also studying at the Cave Hill Campus.
“It was for two purposes . . . that Ministers need to be able to understand how the work flow in their Ministries will be negatively affected by the dismissals or the layoffs that are taking place now . . . and that we need to be able to reengineer work flows and processes . . . if not, things will fall through the cracks,” she added. Mottley told the gathering she has asked the Ministers to report back to her in the next few days that they are managing that process in each Ministry.
She also admitted that the process of layoffs was not without its problems, pointing especially at the School Meals Department where some staffers who were sent home had to be recalled due to their length of service.
“There are some people who get excitement from being able to get a front page story in the newspaper and I have passed that stage long time. Nobody is going to tell you that it is one department that had problems fundamentally last week and Minister Moe is dealing with that department now . . . School Meals,” she noted.
The Prime Minister said there were one or two others.
“We said nobody with ten years or nine years should be going home. We felt that largely because in many instances it would be difficult. What we did for the most part . . . when the security guards went home last week, everybody went home with their cheques. Regrettably, some Ministries have not gotten their act together to give people their cheques. Am I happy about it? Absolutely not. But to say that that is a representation of the entire public service is a lie. And this notion that you are going to continue to bagder and attack public servants for conduct is something that I have said to the Head of the Civil Service, he needs to come and defend,” Mottley stressed.