Tue | Aug 3, 2021

Civil servants warn against staff appointment delays under NIDS

Published:Thursday | March 25, 2021 | 12:16 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

As the transitional process from the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) to the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) is set to get under way following the passage of the NIDS law, a trade union leader is cautioning against inordinate delays in appointing staff.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, O’Neil Grant, told a joint select committee reviewing the NIDS bill on Wednesday that he was concerned about the transitional arrangements, particularly relating to the secondment of RGD staff to NIRA.

“Our experience has been under these transition arrangements where the law is general, it leads to interpretation, and the interpretation oftentimes causes hardship to the members,” he said.

Grant indicated that the provision in Section 36 of the NIDS bill dealing with transition arrangements was similar to that of the Tax Administration Jamaica Act (TAJ) of 2013, which created problems for the workers.

He said that TAJ workers had been on secondment for two years in a situation where the legislation had said that the period should not extend beyond six months.

“We had to take industrial action for the TAJ to actually appoint the persons, so we do have that concern, and we are hoping that the legislation will give a stronger impetus to the agency to treat with the appointment of persons,” Grant asserted.

The JCSA president welcomed a particular aspect of the legislation that did not prescribe a term limit for the chief executive officer.

SAFEGUARDING TENURE

He said this would safeguard the tenure of career public servants who did not wish to be re-engaged in a contractual arrangement.

“We do believe that there are some offices that must have a certain amount of tenure so that when public servants, like myself, who rise through the ranks in public offices, that we are not placed in a contract relationship, and our long years of service can be terminated on a whim, which we have seen happen in a lot of cases,” the trade unionist said.

He added: “Jamaica has one of the worst records in the use of fixed-term contracts to disenfranchise workers, and it does cost the Government of Jamaica millions of dollars when we have to now pay out the unexpired terms of these contracts and also to settle suits brought for wrongful termination.

Grant said he hoped that the provisions treating with the CEO were applied in line with the law and not subjected to a fixed-term contract.

Turning to the proposed composition of the board of the NIRA, Grant expressed concern that a worker representative or trade unionist was not listed.

“Other groupings have been identified, but we have not seen a trade unionist or worker representative that represents a significant cohort of persons in our society,” he said.

He said that when a trade unionist is appointed to the board of an organisation, it helps to avoid the breakdown of the employer-employee relationship and distracts the agency from what it was established to do.

The JCSA head also highlighted the necessity of the NIDS, noting that the system was critical to ensuring that public servants could deliver high-quality service to Jamaicans.

Members of the NIDS Secretariat and committee Chairman Delroy Chuck indicated that many of the areas covered by Grant were concerned mainly with governance and administrative issues.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com