'Public servant is not a normal creature' Grant says'young age' pension benefit justified
With current pension arrangements making it possible for a person to receive state pension at a young age, the proposed reform of the system is recommending changes to the regime.
But Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) president O'Neil Grant said "young age" pension benefits given to a government employee who is terminated on the grounds of abolition of post or reorganisation is justified.
"As the rules now exist, if a national emergency occurs, all public officers are expected to be at their jobs, at the windows, manning the state machinery to keep it afloat because if the public sector crashes, the entire country goes haywire. That is why the public servant is not a normal creature and needs to be treated in a particular way," he said.
Currently, when a post is abolished, the employee who occupied that post receives a pension despite age. "This employee can continue to receive a pension from a young age. If the 'pensioner' is re-employed to the public service, the person would have to request that the pension cease and the years of service be linked," the white paper on pension reform noted.
Grant said that once a person is separated on the grounds of reorganisation, he is immediately entitled to a pension.
"At any age," Grant said.
He argued that the failure of the Government to do a scientific study of the public sector is one factor that has resulted in higher cost to the taxpayers as the State is now forced to make pension payments to persons it has made redundant, even as the number of workers in the public sector has ballooned over the past two decades.
"That is what happened in 1992 when they separated 15,000 people. Some very young people started to get pension and are still getting pension now. I know one man that was separated in that exercise. He is not yet at the age of retirement and has been getting a pension. He is working elsewhere, collecting a salary from the private sector and a pension from Government," Grant said.
He said the approach of the Government to dealing with human resources in the public sector has been characterised by the issue of retrenchment. According to Grant, "Every time we reach a negotiation cycle, you hear, 'Oh, we have to cut the public sector'. Our response now is that if you want to cut, go ahead and cut."
Some $161.7 billion of the $540 billion budget is being used to pay wages this year, representing a wage bill of 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Jamaica must reduce the ratio of wages paid by the Government as a proportion of GDP to nine per cent or less by March 2016 under its agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
The Government is to introduce a human capital management enterprise system as means of tracking the number of persons and the skill areas of persons within the public sector. The introduction of the system is part of the wider transformation that is being done within the public sector.
Grant said the union is supportive of public-sector transformation, arguing that "a quality public service is the only way to go".
As part of pension reform, the existing retirement age of 60 is to be gradually increased to 65 years by one year each year, starting in April 2016.