PUBLIC SERVANTS have been ducking work and using the pandemic as their excuse for doing so, the Prime Minister revealed on Saturday.
In addressing the nation at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, on a measured ease on covid19 restrictions, Dr Rowley said productivity at one unnamed ministry had dropped by 97.5 per cent.
“I must say though, that I have been very disappointed with the reports that I have been getting on the public service, where most of the reports have been that people have been abusing rather than co-operating.”
He reminded the country that the last restriction allowed public servants to operate at 50 per cent capacity on a rotation system.
“The report, by and large, is the very weak management has not taken charge of that, and that persons have been abusing it, to the point at where, a department that was supposed to have 30 people end up with eight. Some people have not bothered to come out. Some people have not bothered to see who come out, and it is like a general free for all.”
Rowley said this was not the intention of the rotation system and Government expected greater responsibility. He said there is still a need to reduce the number of people at work so the full public service will not be out at one time.
“We will ask the head of the public service to instruct his immediate subordinates to ensure that a written roster is kept at all stations, at all locations, and that public servants are to rotate. People stay home on the day you are to stay home, and you come out on the day you are rostered to come out.”
He added: “In order to make sure it is not left to be abused, the way it is abused now, the head of the public service is instructed to do this as an authorised action under law. Those who do not turn up to work, on the day they are rostered to work, are to be deemed absent from work with the consequences to flow from that, including not being paid.”
Sunday Newsday contacted Public Servants Association president Watson Duke who said he did not hear the PM’s statements and will comment on Sunday after he looks into it. Duke, who is contesting the PSA leadership, followed his opponent Curtis Cuffie, who also said he did not hear what Rowley said and would not comment until he did so.
However, another contender for the PSA presidency, Nixon Callender, said the prime minister was “shooting from the hip” and had trained his guns not on workers but on managers.
“I have said time and time again that there is no such thing as a bad worker, but incompetent and inept managers. The prime minister should instruct the head of the public service to write a warning letter to the permanent secretaries, and heads of departments, who have dropped the ball for years. If today, the prime minister is pointing fingers at the workers for a drastic drop in productivity, then it is an indictment on the permanent secretaries and heads of departments.”
Callender said the issues raised would have been dealt with by the chief personnel officer (CPO) in a memorandum detailing the rules of the work rotation. He said there is no need for the prime minister to re-enforce what that circular stated. This, he said, was a continuation of mismanagement. Rowley also highlighted that in one ministry, which normally handled 2,500 transactions monthly, the output dropped to a meagre 62 in one month, as a result of public servants’ absenteeism. “The public service is servicing the country and if we allow that to happen we are pretty much accidentally, serendipitously, unwittingly shutting down the public service. We believe that our public servants should understand that what we are doing here, these responses, being at home and be paid is not a joke, it a serious response to a dangerous virus.”
When asked if the government spoke to the PSA regarding these concerns, Rowley said: “I am not aware that the government spoke to the PSA, but the government has its responsibility and the PSA have theirs. We expect where there is cooperation there is progress, where there is no cooperation, well, the progress will be in danger.”
Rowley said the CPO and Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie will address the issue with the PSA. He added that public servants are the government’s business and he will address them to ensure they serve the country.
Last Monday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced that for the next year, there will be a freeze on hiring public servants.
Duke last week said the announcement made him “tremble in my boots” and vowed to use the law to stop the measure. He added government could not make such a decision without consulting the PSA, or changing the law as a freeze will directly affect the Public Service Commission which is an independent institution.