As a long-time advocate for the elimination of the worst forms of contract employment I applaud the Government's move to insert conditions on the contracting of companies that provide certain types of security services to the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) and its institutions.
Based on rules of procurement, the GOJ and the contracted employers of security guards had to have conversations around the amendment or variation of these contracts and having arrived at a scheme of arrangement have come to us to let us know that, effective April 1, 2023, the GOJ has set a strict condition that no contracts will be awarded if they don't treat their security staff as employees and not contractors.
This is a very good stance by the GOJ and the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) applauds it. However, the GOJ, as an employer, has its own contract worker issue to deal with.
The JCSA has long advocated that the fixed-term contract (FTC) policy of the GOJ is being misapplied and ought to be amended with the passage of the Pensions (Public Service) Act 2017, which gave the GOJ an opportunity to fix employment issues and get all workers in jobs of an indeterminate nature and scope to become full-time employees and contribute towards their pensions.
In an article I wrote dated November 20, 2017 I lamented that fixed-term contract arrangements in the public sector promotes compensation inequality as FTCs represent a lower level of protection for workers, in terms of termination of their employment, as no reason needs to be given by the employer to end the relationship. There is no option for employees to transition to permanent employment, and these workers face higher risks of unemployment as they have no protection under the law.
As a result of this risk, the contract worker is paid a premium of 25 per cent of salary as a gratuity. However, the base salary for the majority of these workers is low relative to the risk that they bear, and unfortunately FTCs with a gratuity is confined to certain levels of staff and the duration of the contract must be for at least two years.
To counter this, agencies of the State have reverted to using contracts for low-level jobs and for terms as short as three months to one year. This has resulted in significant compensation inequality in the public sector. This inequality is exacerbated in that these temporary workers cannot access benefits if the contracts are for less than two or three years in duration.
The recent issuance of Circular #20, dated November 18, 2022, from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service delaying the participation of individuals employed under contract in the compensation restructuring exercise by at least one year is again indicative that the GOJ needs to also fix its own contract employment issues, which has resulted in two sets of workers in the public sector and denies one set the right to equal treatment by the same employer, while they do the same work of similar value in jobs of an indeterminate nature for which they will be paid less with effect from April 1, 2023.
The JCSA has not been provided with any reason for the different treatment, given that we have always had contracts amended when there is a change in compensation. We have asked the Government to fix this urgently as this is now deepening a serious compensation inequity challenge.
The compensation restructuring did identify the end of the three-year implementation period for this review and overhaul of the FTC policy; however, this has been frustrated by the differential treatment of contract workers.
It appears that there are now movements underway to fix this by way of amendment; however, time is of the essence and the situation has now become critical and one of moral authority given the GOJ's recent stance on the employment of industrial security guards.
O'Neil W Grant
Jamaica Civil Service Association