Editorial: Immoral sickout
We are happy that members of the constabulary appear to have imbibed a good dose of common sense and that many of the 3,000 or so who fell ill in recent days are again well. We hope they remain that way. Incapacity, by whatever cause, of a quarter of the police force can't be good for the security of Jamaica.
In that regard, we hope that the leadership of the Police Federation, the negotiating arm of the constables up to the rank of inspector, has taken a double portion of elixir that revived their members. It would help, too - on the chance that it had wavered - that they develop a healthy respect for the law and the moral basis on which they are mandated to enforce it.
In the context of developments to which we allude, we are cognisant of the fact that police personnel, like other public-sector employees who are now in wage negotiations with the Government, are workers keen on receiving better salaries after a four-year freeze on basic pay. We also appreciate that it is mostly the case in negotiations that neither party gets all that it asks for, and that in Jamaica's economic circumstances, the Government can pay hardly more than the five per cent it has offered, unless it takes the tough decision to downsize the bloated public sector.
Further, we are reminded of the fact that while they help to enforce the law, the police are not immune from it. Indeed, their special position places a greater burden on them to respect and abide by it.
The constabulary is, by law, an essential service, placing its members among that group of critical workers whose right to engage in industrial action is proscribed. In furtherance of its demand for pay substantially beyond the Government's offer, the Police Federation, in recent days, caused significant numbers of its members to report sick. That ruse, the federation believes, gets them around the law and provides a fig leaf of legitimacy from behind which strikers can still claim compensation for the days they did not work. That is an immorality, which is often compounded by the inducement of health professionals to falsify declarations about employees' state of health.
Cops must obey law
There is a further problem with the behaviour of the Police Federation. On Tuesday evening, the Government got a court injunction against the union for it to abide by the laws covering essential services and call off its quasi-strike. Unfortunately, this injunction was largely ignored on Wednesday. If anything, more police personnel reported ill than the previous day. If the police can't be counted on to abide by the law when it applies to them, it weakens their moral authority to enforce it against others.
This week's events raise again the issue of strategies to be employed to ensure security in circumstances when the constabulary falls short on its responsibilities. Currently, it is expected that in such cases, some of the
burden will be assumed by the Jamaica Defence Force, which has great value.
We would suggest, too, that the national security ministry contemplate a strategic alliance with security companies, whose members could receive basic training in law enforcement and be deputised to act as constables when so required.