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Bunting wants security forces pension issues clarified

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 27, 2012    

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MINISTER of National Security Peter Bunting wants issues affecting the security forces in the proposals for public sector pension reform to be addressed in the current debate in the House of Representatives.

The debate on the report from a joint select committee of Parliament, which reviewed the Green Paper on "Options for Public Sector Pension Reform", is expected to resume in the House today.

Among the issues that have been raised is that of early retirement, where the report states: "Special groups, eg, the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) and JDF (Jamaica Defence Force), because of the peculiar nature of their jobs, would be singled out and treated differently regarding age of retirement, but this does not mean that they will be treated inequitably".

But, Bunting told the House of Representatives last week that the statement, "but this does not mean that they will be treated inequitably", needed clarification. He said that the areas of implementation and transition were only mentioned in passing, but will be very important to members of the security forces, particularly those near retirement.

"For example, I believe the transitional implementation arrangements should ensure that those members closest to retirement should be least affected, (and) if they already qualify then, perhaps, not at all," he suggested.

He also pointed out that the Government has given a commitment to make District Constables pensionable. He noted that their role has evolved, and they have been, in most cases, operating on a 40-hour work week and have assumed duties similar to those of members of the regular forces, therefore, their transitional arrangements would have to be negotiated.

"Similarly, members of the Jamaica National Reserve require urgent attention, as their employment status is also peculiar. It is proposed that the accumulated contact hours be counted as reckonable service, to allow these individuals to qualify for pension," he said.

Bunting said that there are very sound arguments for the differential treatment of the security forces, as policing remains one of the most hazardous occupations in the world, moreso in Jamaica with its high crime rate and anti-police culture.

He said that it must be taken into consideration that the stress level associated with their occupation is unequalled, and can have serious implications for the psychological wellbeing of members.

"For this reason, the Ministry of National Security has advanced plans to upgrade the psychological services provided to police, recognising that in extreme cases highly stressed police personnel can represent a threat to society," he said.

He stated that military service also has peculiar elements that require special considerations and treatment, as there service requires a 24-hour call to duty, locally or internationally, in the most difficult circumstances.

Buting also informed the House that Saturdays and Sundays off are considered as part of the leave for security personnel. He said that the arduous nature of military deployment creates occupational stress unique to security forces, and military laws place additional restrictions on military personnel, denying them some of the basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by other groupings.

"They are expected to be on extended deployments without additional remuneration. For all these reasons, the security forces warrant special treatment," he argued.

He also expressed concern that the pension system makes no provision for indexation (indexation to the cost of living), and that the recommendations from the joint select committee did not substantively address this issue.

"Therefore, even a reasonable monthly pension pay-out, at the start of the retirement period, could see its value being significantly eroded in a few years due to inflation," he explained.

"This is especially disadvantageous for military personnel, who are mandated to retire between 47 and 56 years. For example, a full colonel who retired in the late 80s would be getting less than minimum wage, today," he added.

He also noted that existing rules preclude members of the security forces from entering into supplementary pension agreements.

"This proves problematic for members who wish to 'top-up' their pension benefits, which are in most cases, insufficient. The Police, for example, contribute 1.7 per cent of their salary to the pension scheme; what they are requesting is an explicit provision, which allows them to supplement their government pension," he told the House.

He suggested that in the case of military personnel who retire from the service, usually in their late forties to fifties, the supplementary arrangement should be transferable, as they often assume other public service posts when they retire from the Force.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of the security forces for their service to Jamaica. It is only reasonable that they be afforded adequate social security upon retirement," Bunting concluded.

"While I fully support the reform of the system, it should not only be looked at from a fiscal sustainability perspective, but we must also ensure that it is fair and equitable, and provides an effective retirement cushion," he concluded.

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