Thursday, April 18, 2024

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: PM causing much anxiety

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RECENTLY, THE Prime Minister threw many government workers into shock and panic when he declared that the Governor General has power to compulsorily retire public officers at 60 years of age.

He cited certain sections of the Pensions Act, Chapter 25 of the Laws of Barbados and concluded that this power is exercisable in much the same way as the board of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation had done with its employees who had passed that age.

I received many frantic queries from public officers who are approaching 60 years of age and who are now worried about the prospect of a forced unplanned retirement. Their fears were understandable when you consider that the Prime Minister spoke with such passion and conviction. If I were in their place, I would have been worried too, if I didn’t know any better.

The compulsory age of retirement in the Public Service is presently sixty-six and a half years. However, as the PM pointed out, in accordance with section 11 of the Pensions Act, the Governor General can retire a certain class of officer at age 55 years; and according to section 13B other officers can be compulsorily retired, by the Governor General at 60 years of age. But it is not as simple as the PM would have us believe. He neglected or omitted to say that the Governor General can only exercise that power on the advice of the Public Service Commission, after they had conducted or ordered an inquiry into an officer’s conduct.

The PM ought to be aware or someone should tell him that the compulsory retirement, of a person who had not reached retirement age, is a penalty that can be imposed on an officer who has been found guilty of committing an offence of a serious nature. The Third Schedule of the Public Service Act (the Code of Discipline in the Public Service) states at paragraph 6:

6. (1) The penalties that may be imposed on an officer against whom a disciplinary charge constituting misconduct of a serious nature is proved are as follows:

(a) suspension on half pay for a period not in excess of 6 months;

(b) reduction in rank;

(c) suspension of future increments for a period not exceeding 2 years;

(d) reprimand in writing;

(e) compulsory retirement; or

(f) dismissal.

When a public officer is found guilty of misconduct of a serious nature, and it is determined that his/her services should be terminated, there are two options – dismissal or compulsory retirement. It was called compulsory resignation under the 1978 Public Service Regulations. In the event of a dismissal, the officer forfeits his/her pension.

If the officer is compulsorily retired that person is allowed to retain the pension and gratuity. Compulsory retirement in the Public Service is therefore a more humane form of punishment but a punishment nonetheless, that cannot be imposed whimsically or to balance the budget.

As if scaring the living daylights out of unsuspecting public officers, who are approaching their 60th birthday were not enough, the PM took aim at trade unionists who refused to practice their calling according to the script that had been prepared for them by politicians. He accused them of not following the process of the much vaunted Social Partnership.

When in opposition, Mr Stuart was one of the most ardent critics of the Social Partnership. Apparently, his views have evolved to the point where he now seems to be one of the most passionate supporters of that arrangement. I, like many other right-thinking Barbadians, supported his views, on the Social Partnership, when he was in opposition. He cannot now expect all of us to have the same Saul to Paul conversion that inflicted him. To expect such could only be described as a monstrous perversion of common sense.

Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of the Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: caswellf@hotmail.com

 

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