Contract employment and public service


THE 2023 report of the Auditor General includes an alarming statement on the issue of contract employment as it relates to the public service. This propensity by successive governments for the use of contract labour has been stealthily creeping into the public service, much to the consternation of public sector unions for over two decades.

The Auditor General’s report is a confirmation of a seemingly tacit policy position of the government to circumvent the roles of service commissions as a means of separating powers between the executive and the legislature. Such separation intended is to prevent the concentration of unchecked power by providing critical checks and balances.

The report flagged an overall 31 per cent increase in expenditure on “short-term” contract workers in the last fiscal year compared to the previous financial year.

The report further noted that these contracts were tethered to state agencies and government ministries for periods exceeding six months. In addition to the State flagrantly ignoring good industrial relations practices, the report noted that there is no evidence of a policy directive for the preponderance of this underhanded attempt to seize control of the public service.

TTUTA as the recognised majority unit for teachers and associated personnel has been repeatedly pointing to the emergence of a parallel public service and the associated dangers of allowing this trend to go unchecked.

It has continually complained about the increasing number of positions in the teaching service that remain "vacant," which are subsequently filled by people on “short-term contracts.” What is even more disconcerting is that people so engaged are never given contract copies detailing the terms of engagement. These “short-term contracts” ultimately extend for years with "contract breaks" periodically, confirming that these positions ought to be filled permanently.

From business office assistants, school safety and health officers, information and communication technicians, guidance officers, school social workers and pre-school teachers, many positions in the education sector, including established teaching positions, have been manned for years by people on these so-called “short-term contracts,” despite repeated protests by the unions for the regularisation of these positions.

In addition, several permanent positions are not being declared vacant to the Teaching Service Commission so that they can be filled in the proper manner.

These contract workers are being denied several rights and benefits compared to permanent workers, not the least of which is security of tenure, being at the behest of politicians’ whim and fancy. It also creates the opportunity for rampant nepotism.

Among the several ministries and state agencies guilty of this practice, the report noted that the Ministry of Education is a chief culprit, spending a whopping $37,076,963.73 on short-term employment in the last fiscal year.

It is to be noted that based on the revised national policy for contract employment (subject to the Statutory Authorities Act, Chapter 24:01), which came into effect on 01/08/04, guidelines issued by the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), circular memorandum 12/2/1, Vol IV, dated May 18, 2006, stipulate that people will serve on contract principally in the following circumstances:

1. Where there is a dearth of suitably qualified candidates for permanent appointment to those pensionable offices on the establishment of any ministry/department/statutory authority and there is urgent need for the services attached to such offices;

2. Where special projects or programmes of specified duration (often funded by international agencies) are undertaken by any ministry/department/statutory authority and need to be executed and monitored by personnel additional to those on the permanent establishment of the ministry/department/statutory authority; and

3. Where a need has been identified for the specialised services of an individual – eg an adviser in a particular area of expertise – and such need cannot be met by the filling of any existing position on the establishment.

This circular spells out in specific details the manner in which short-term contract positions will be created and filled. Very troubling is the blatant disregard for these guidelines by successive governments in furtherance of their political ambitions.

Upon assumption to office as minister of labour, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, at a meeting with members of JTUM, gave an undertaking to address this issue, expressing her personal consternation on the trend based on her previous tenure as head of the Public Services Association.

It is patently obvious that the government is intent on ensuring that the public service is manned essentially by people who do not fall under the protection and direction of the service commissions, having repeatedly expressed the desire to get rid of these dreaded commissions.

TTUTA calls on the Government to abide strictly with the guidelines of the CPO.


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