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ROLE OF THE CHIEF PERSONNEL OFFICER By Ken Howell

posted 3 Aug 2015, 16:29 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 3 Aug 2015, 16:30 ]
The essential function of the Civil Service is to manage the day- to - day operations of the government of the day and the state. In that regard, the Civil Service is usually divided up under different Ministries by the Prime Minister, who is really the Chief Executive Officer. Their roles and functions as well as their names, may change from time to time as the Prime Minister may decide. But what a Prime Minister cannot change, without going to the Parliament to amend the Constitution, is the role and functions of the Public Services Commission, the Statutory Services Commission and such other commissions.                                                                            

The Chief Personnel Officer is the head of the Personnel Organisation, which under the Republican Constitution, is established by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The CPO is charged with the responsibility to treat with all matters concerning the employer-employee relations in all statutory authorities and in the Civil Service. These responsibilities include the fixing of salaries and other terms and conditions of employment consistent with market rates for public officers and the CPO also required to be the advisor to the Management of the statutory authorities with regard to same. 

With respect to state enterprises, and quasi-state enterprises, the line Minister, can make recommendations for salary increases and the CPO is required to give advice and to also set the percentage limits on salary increases and other cost items that are being negotiated in the particular enterprise, bearing in mind the limits set by the government on recurrent expenditure.

 It has never been the practice for the CPO to sit across the table in any negotiations with the representative unions in the Statutory Authorities. However, it would not be unusual sometimes for the CPO to be the proverbial “elephant” in the room. That is to say, that the Management of some of these enterprises who receive allocations from the government, use the CPO as an excuse when they are unwilling to respond favourably to reasonable proposals put forward by the representative unions.

When such situations occur, some union leaders have been known to seek the intervention of the line Minister as a party to the negotiations; refusing to recognize that the Minister has no legal standing in such matters, since the Minister is not a signatory to the agreement.

In the case of public officers, the CPO is deemed to be the employer and is charged with the responsibility to meet and treat with the recognised associations that represent police, prison, and fire officers and employees of the Civil Service. In this case it is the Public Services Association. With respect to the statutory authorities, the CPOs involvement is confined to advising the Boards of these authorities, on wages and salary increases and other cost items, by interfacing with the line Minister, who may also make recommendations on salary and wage increases.

The CPO is not deemed to be the employer of persons employed by the Regional Health Authorities. The Regional Health Authorities Act Chap. 29:05 became law on 19, December 1994. It speaks about the establishment of the RHAS.  At section 4 (1) it says: “Each Authority is hereby created a body corporate to be known by the appropriate name given in the first column of the first schedule.” It goes on to say it shall be managed by a Board of Directors. Section 5 (1) says: Subject to sub sec. (2) “a Board shall exercise its powers and functions in accordance with such specific or general directions as maybe given to it by the Minister.”  At section 13 – sub sec. (3) (4) and (5), provision is made for the Board to appoint committees to treat with any matter concerning resolving matters relating to staff.

We are to be reminded, that there are three types of employees whose services are currently engaged by the RHAS. These are free agents; persons who took voluntary retirement; persons on transfer and persons on secondment. The Act provides for persons on transfer and secondment to continue to enjoy all the terms and conditions to which they were entitled, when they were under the Ministry of Health. It is such persons for which the PSA is legally recognized to continue to represent.

 Persons who received their VSEP packages and filled out an application for employment with the RHAS and were employed by the RHAS, even if they filled out a PSA application form that association does not have the legal right to represent them on matters such as negotiations and issues which are deemed interest disputes. These persons are free to form and join any trade union of their choice, subject to the nefarious essential industry provision of the Industrial Relations Act.

 In the case of the hourly rated employees of the RHAS: they are deemed to be the successor to the terms and conditions of employment set out in the registered Collective Agreements entered into by the CPO and the recognised majority union representing hourly rated workers.

It is to be noted, that as the implementation of the Public Sector Reform programme continues its journey through what is left of the Civil Service, the office of the CPO will diminish in importance, as the Roads Authority, The Transport Authority, and the Drainage Authority are added to the existing Statutory Authorities and Special Purpose Companies, which will assume the roles and functions of the Civil Service. 

Each Authority and Special Purpose Company already has its own Human Resource Department. What seemed to be ignored by organisations representing employees in the public sector is that the infrastructure for the dismantling of the Public Service is already in place. As a result, thousands of workers will be placed on the breadline or will have to seek employment with contractors who will pay decreased wages; while billions of dollars of public funds will be channelled into the pockets of the private sector.

But while some of these trade union leaders fraternize with these political parties who are sometimes in government or in opposition, they seem to be oblivious to these very real threats facing the trade union movement; as if they do not understand that these parties all endorse the dismantling of the public sector; which means the destruction of the unions representing the workers. This leads one to question the motives of these union leaders. Union members: a word to the wise!

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