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JENNY DROPPED THE BALL: HEALTH WORKERS, PUBLIC SERVANTS PAY THE PRICE by Ken Howell

posted 3 Nov 2014, 14:23 by Gerry Kangalee
On Sunday 2, November 2014, I sat on my chair in my living room, listening to i95.5 fm. It was a show in which Mr. Ralph Maraj, a former government Minister in a PNM administration (among others), and Jennifer Baptiste Primus, a former President of the Public Services Association and an aspiring politician, were discussing several matters of public interest. 

One of the issues which Mrs. Baptiste Primus raised, and appeared to be alarmed about, was the issue of Public Sector Reform. I was amused when she wondered what the current President of PSA was doing about the privatization of certain jobs in the Public Service. She was quoting from a Cabinet Minute, which gave the authority to the Permanent Secretaries, to employ persons on contracts for a period not exceeding twelve months when employees, in classifications such as Cleaners, Drivers, and so on, proceed on vacation leave. From what she sought to explain it would appear, that it is the Public Services Commission’s responsibility to make such decisions. 
 
The real bone of contention for Mrs. Baptiste Primus was the issue of Health Sector Reform: a process which was initiated by Mr. Gordon Draper, a former Minister of Public Administration, in a PNM government. While it is true that she was not yet the President of the PSA during Minister Draper’s tenure, she was an employee of the Public Service when a PNM government first tested the feasibility of the idea of establishing Health Sector Reform in the Port of Spain General Hospital, as the first leg of the Public Sector reform programme. 
 
When the Regional Health Authorities were established, Mrs. Baptiste Primus was the President of the PSA. and as President she would have had to meet and treat with the consequences resulting from that decision. More specifically, she had to deal with the separation of health employees from the Ministry of Health. So, I fail to see how she could plead ignorance to the existence of contract labour in the Public Sector, since it has been around for quite a long time. 

One of her complaints was about an allegation, that the Public Service Commission advertised a number of vacant positions for which an overwhelming number of persons had applied, only to realise that the Cabinet had already authorised the Permanent Secretaries to employ persons on fixed term contracts in those positions. 

The fact of the matter, is that during her tenure as the President of the PSA she failed to do anything about contract labour in the Public Sector. 
 
You see, when politicians want to score points in advancing their agenda, they can be very economical with the truth. But Mr. Ralph Maraj the other member of the panel, had to remind Mrs. Baptiste Primus that the programme started with Mr. Gordon Draper as Minister of Public Administration, and that he remembered that the question of the size of the Public Service was one of the concerns of the government. 
 
In other words, just like the Reagan administration which was complaining about big government in the 1970s/1980s, the PNM was discussing privatization which is just another name for public sector reform, which appears to be tied into certain IMF conditionalities and successive governments, whether it was the National Alliance for Reconstruction or the United National Congress, all chose to continue to adhere to the same path. 
 
Another factor is the strength of the trade union movement. Without doubt, governments over the years have been analysing the strength of the movement; how it responded to certain structural changes that were made in the public sector. There was no concern expressed by the movement when the government launched the Roads Authority, and the Drainage Authority. 
 
It was only the PSA, which raised an alarm over the introduction of the Revenue Authority. This failure on the part of the leaders of the trade union movement, to raise their voices when such issues with far reaching consequences for workers confront them, speaks to their lack of understanding that the movement is under attack. If they do, then their behaviour in the recent past does not suggest that they are conscious of a reality of which everyone else is aware. 
 
For example, they did not have to join the PP to push the “Workers Agenda” or become a Senator to fight for increases for daily rated workers. What is the reality? Well, as far as I can see, the three major unions are directly in the firing line. These are the PSA, OWTU and NUGFW. Other Unions such as TIWU and BIGWU are also vulnerable. 
 
It does not matter which party gets into office in 2015, because if there is one thing all of them agree on is privatization and in that regard contract labour both in the Public Service and the Energy Sector will continue unabated, unless the Trade Unions are prepared to unite to fight it. There is no doubt in my mind that 2015 will be a year of conflict between labour and capital in this country. As a former Trade Unionist that is what Mrs. Baptiste Primus should be concerned about. During her tenure, she dropped the ball!
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