We welcome the news that over 1,000 Government employees will be appointed. Some who were in acting positions as well as those with a “temporary” work status, will now be made permanent from tomorrow.
We join with these employees, their families and their households as they jubilate this long-in-coming wonderful news.
For many years, consecutive Governments have taken advantage of the public sector workforce. For several years there have been actors upon actors among civil servants. People with plenty years’ experience, competence and know-how, were not considered if they did not have the requisite qualifications. This has caused some bad blood, allegations of supersession, claims of being overlooked and a general fracture of morale.
Some have laboured in positions for a decade or more, precariously under the status of “temporary”. This was so even though they worked regular hours, five days a week. They could not reap the benefits of being bona fide staff members.
Both situations were unacceptable. It had been going on for far too long. This could not have been a good place for our workers, many of whom gave of their best and sacrificed much to get the job done. We can hardly imagine how trying a time it has been for them not knowing the occasion they would be summarily told their services were not required.
However, given this recent victory workers too must always know that only their best is good enough. We expect better, prompt, efficient and friendly service for all customers/clients who come in contact with state workers. Barbados will accept nothing less.
Indeed, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn spoke about it on the floor of Parliament yesterday and we agree. During the Public Service (Appointment) Bill, 2020, debate the Minister called on the workers to “pull their weight” and “bring about the change that is needed in the public sector”.
Any employee/employer relationship has to be viewed as a partnership by both parties. Success or failure depends on how well the partnership works. Government, the employer, must demand productivity, creativity, flexibility, accountability, professionalism and above all, Government must create a work environment that is fair and just.
Sadly, successive Governments have not only neglected the workers, their working conditions and the like, but they have used the public sector as their personal political plaything. The public sector is especially used and abused around general election time. Decisions on hiring, and to a lesser extent firing, have been mostly politically motivated over the years.
Two things happen. Lots of people get jobs, appointments, or have contracts extended just before an election. Then, if the Government changes, plenty people are sent packing shortly after the new administration takes office.
It is no secret. It is clear for all to see that the majority of constituencies have a heavy number of people with Government jobs, often linked to the ministry their Member of Parliament has responsibility for. No wonder then that Opposition Leader Reverend Joseph Atherley yesterday questioned the timing of the passing of the Bill with an upcoming by-election.
“I am simply pointing to the coincidence of timing because . . . there is an election exercise in Barbados, particularly in the constituency of St George North. So, we have a matter like this being brought in this way, using the mechanism of this Parliament to ensure that it is achieved on the eve of a by-election in St George North and indeed in the mind of some, on the eve of a general election in Barbados not too far down the road. I’m speaking about coincidence in timing,” Atherley said.
In politics there is always a timely rebuttal and Minister of Labour, Social Partnership and The Third Sector Colin Jordan addressed Atherley’s query, saying that Government was busy “stablising the economy” and that COVID-19 posed other challenges as well that would have impacted the timing of the exercise.
In 2018, the current administration blasted then Minister of Education Ronald Jones for what they called “dishing out late appointment letters to teachers.” On a Barbados Labour Party platform mounted in Orange Hill, St James, MP for St Thomas Cynthia Forde described it as a last-minute bid to secure votes. Since then Government has berated the last administration for extended contracts across the board to accommodate “party faithful”.
On assuming office, the Government then fired, and in some instances, did not renew the contracts of many. Truth be told, there is enough blame to go around. The public sector is the largest workforce in Barbados and therefore yields the most voters. But the time has come, especially given what has transpired during the
COVID-19 period, for the public sector to be managed with nothing less than efficiency. Time is money so we expect speedy and prompt service as well.
Millions of taxpayers’ dollars are pumped into Government offices and facilities. We are stakeholders too. We want to know that our money is well-spent.
As it relates to Atherley’s observation, we too will be keeping a keen eye on the happenings in the coming weeks. Indeed, any extra or unusual attention being paid to labour issues during this by-election period would cause us to raise a few questions of our own.