Friday, July 11, 2008

State bulldozes reform in the civil service

State bulldozes reform in the civil service

www.sun.com.fj - 7/10/2008


The Public Service Commission (PSC) has started its reform process.
We know that PSC chairman Rishi Ram spent a few days in Singapore and upon his return said they would be using the Singapore Civil Service model.

We must be mindful of the fact that the Singapore civil service is one of the most efficient and least corrupt in the world with some of the highest paid civil servants.

The Singapore Government holds the view that this will eliminate corruption both at the political and civil service level.

This high-wage structure was introduced in the early to mid 1990s where civil service salaries are pegged to the private sector.

In a report on the public service sector reform in Singapore prepared by Janet Tay it says "The Singapore Government uses the National Trade Union Co-operative (NTUC) while it strives to protect and serve its labour force. It strives to maintain good relationship in a united effort to maintain and promote Singapore's competitiveness. It functions on the basis of a tripartite partnership - industrial peace with justice and social harmony. NTUC's objectives are:

o To help Singapore stay competitive and workers to stay employable for life

o To enhance the social status and well being of workers

o To build a strong, responsible and caring labour movement

As the PSC pushes for the reform it has sent out a PSC Circular No.17/2008 reminding all Permanent Secretaries that effective immediately all new recruits into Fiji's Public Service would be contracted.

The circular says - "The Commission as mandated by Cabinet in its meeting of 05/02/08 had taken hard decisions towards reform initiatives in the public service. These decisions are prerequisite to good governance and for the betterment of our nation and public service as a whole."

It adds - "The Commission had deliberated at length on the issue and decided to adopt the performance based contract employment conditions."

Where is the good governance the PSC has been harping about when the worker's representatives are totally ignored in this reform?

If it is using the model from Singapore, then the unions must be part of the reform.

I must admit, the government of the day is making decisions without taking into account the welfare of the workers.

The PSC is the biggest employer in the country and as a responsible employer it should care for its employees...

I must admit the unions were caught off guarded by the new contractual appointment policy now put in place

The Fiji Public Servant Association and the Fiji Teachers Union had written to PSC on the matter and had given a seven day notice for this to be shelved.

The Public Sector Union (PSU) that is made up of the Fijian Teachers Association (FTA), Public Employees Union (PEU and Viti National Union of Taukei Workers (VNUTW) had written to the PSC on 9th July.

FTA general secretary Maika Namudu said they had been watching from the sideline observing the move by the PSC.

The PSC he said knew very well of the Partnership Agreement now before the Ministry of Labour.

"In fact PSC was part of the dispute and it is now just waiting the case to be referred to the Labour Court," Mr Namudu said.

In the agreement according to Mr Namudu they have the COLA, conditions of work and merit pay.

The ruling by the Labour Court is still on hold because the PSC had yet to appoint the people to sit in the court.

"Why the delay?" Mr Namudu asked.

Now, when the Labour Court has never sat to hear the case, the PSC had announced the reform that included things in the Partnership Agreement.

Now Mr Ram has announced there will be no COLA payment and now the three year contract for the new recruits.

Now the PSC, an institution that is championing good governance, with the announcement of the contractual appointments is surely practicing bad governance.

The PSU is concerned with the way PSC is dishing out decisions.

PSU officials had noted PSC had made major policy decisions outside its constitutional obligations to respect the constitutional provisions which accorded the trade unions the right to collective bargaining - the right to be heard.

"Because of these irregularities you have deprived the government workers of their rights to be heard on matters which are a matter of life and death to them as it affects bread and butter issues," the letter said.

On the contractual agreement policy the PSU told PSC - "This again is a policy that has been arbitrarily imposed by the Public Service Commission again outside its constitutional obligation to involve the workers representatives (union) on matters affecting their terms and conditions of employment.

This is a new development which has exposed the government system to experimentation and can spell disastrous consequences in the future.

As we firmly believe that those who had made these decisions have done it in haste and under the present circumstances it questions the wisdom of those responsible.

We therefore wish to advise that we strongly object to the introduction of this new concept that has been imposed without our concurrence."

It is a real shame for the PSC not to care for the future of its workers.

Why was the unions not consulted in this new contractual policy?

Is this because the PSC is pushed by the barrel of the gun?

Did the PSC think of the repercussion of this decision?

I must admit this decision has created both fear and hatred.

PSC must be mindful of the promulgated Employment and Relations Act 2007.

The Act marks a new era in Fiji of a fundamental shift from confrontation to good faith bargaining and cooperation producing positive outcomes for everyone: Government, employers and workers and their families.

To get away from confrontational approach, the new Act has promoted good faith bargaining.

It is a fact that there was no good faith bargaining but I must admit the new contractual policy has promoted confrontation especially to the unions as representatives of the workers.

There is still time left for good faith bargaining between the unions and the PSC.

On the abolition of COLA, another issue that does not augur well with the workers, Mr Namudu said they PS had drawn the PSC attention to Arbitration Award No. 52 - 57 of 2005 which the Arbitrator clearly stated I his conclusion it supports the payment of COLA as "The purpose of a COLA increase in wages is to maintain the purchasing power of existing wages, where the loss of the purchasing power is caused by inflation."

On the other hand it concluded on the performance based system (PMS) that - "the purpose of an increase in wages based on PMS is to reward workers for their performance over the year which by definition should be better than the previous year…

….."

I must admit that the PSC has taken the law into its own hand and act.

It must be reminded that "no one is above the law."

As the biggest employer in the country, it must care for the welfare of its employees.

It must promote an environment of confidence within the workforce but in this case it is creating an environment of fear.

Mr Namudu has summed up the new contractual policy as - "a hire and fire policy."

With the new contract now ready, the new recruits have the right to be represented at the signing of the contract or as the new PR Act says the worker must be heard.

The relationship between the PSC and its employees I must admit is tense.

PSC must be mindful that the workers have the right to go on strike.

Members of the public do not want to see the civil servants go on strike again.

The PSC must now act responsibly and sit with the unions and negotiate in good faith. We are dealing with the people and most of them had sacrificed a lot for the government.

There rights have to be respected.

The unions are talking and surely the PSC must call them in for talks.

Unions always opt for strike as the last option.

Let us hope this will not happen.

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