BU shares the Caswell Franklyn Nation newspaper column – he is the General Secretary of Unity Workers Union and BU Contributor.[…]
APPARENTLY, WITHOUT REALISING that procedures and practices, embodied in Protocol vi of the Social Partnership, had been superseded, the Prime Minister castigated the new leadership of the major trade unions for not observing those time-honoured provisions. The procedures to which the PM referred have been replaced by the provisions of the 2012 Employment Rights Act (ERA).
Prior to the coming into force of that act, the so-called Social Partnership hammered out a set of procedures to be followed when employers wanted to reduce staff. It had no legal effect and was merely what is called a gentleman’s agreement, binding in honour only.
The ERA, which came into force in April 2013, has enacted many of the practices and procedures of the protocol, particularly those provisions that dealt with the termination of employment.
The notable exception is that the ERA did not provide a role for the Minister of Labour or the Prime Minister in labour disputes. The roles that previously fell to them in the protocol have been assigned by law to the Employment Rights Tribunal.
It was therefore surprising to see the DLP Administration that legislated away roles for the PM and Minister of Labour now clinging tenaciously to a bygone era when this country relied on a purely voluntaristic industrial relations environment.
The provisions of the ERA apply to the private sector and, according to Section 51 of that act, also apply to statutory boards. It does not apply to the Public Service, which is sometimes referred to as central government.
Everything in the Public Service is regulated by its one set of binding rules.
For those reasons, as an industrial relations practitioner, I found it painful to watch Government and unions trying to contort their words and actions to fit into a procedure to circumvent the ERA, while dealing with disputes at statutory boards.
I am prepared to give those disputing parties the benefit of the doubt and suggest that, since the ERA is relatively new, its provisions are not yet well known so people preferred to stay in their comfort zones.
Be that as it may, I took comfort in the fact that, however mistaken, Government was trying to follow some process which augured well for industrial relations practice in the Public Service. I could not be more wrong!
At the first opportunity, Government appeared to have jettisoned the rules, while negotiating with the major unions for the Customs and Excise transition into the Barbados Revenue Authority, by allowing a government minister to be part of the process that leads to appointments.
From as far back as 1855, when the first Civil Service Commission was established, politicians were barred from any involvement in the appointment process for civil servants. I have therefore taken a position that I will not involve myself or my union in any negotiations that run afoul of that longstanding convention in the Public Service.
That stance seemed to have generated some unintended controversy.
On Thursday, August 6, I awoke to a headline in the DAILY NATION: Franklyn Can’t Call The Shots For Me, Says Sinckler. The body of the article went on to quote Minister of Finance, Christopher Sinckler as saying: “Caswell Franklyn doesn’t determine which meetings I am going to be present at or I can’t be present at. That is not his role!”
The minister is absolutely correct: I readily accept that it is not my role to make that determination for him. The framers of the Barbados Constitution made that determination long ago at section 94. That section has given the exclusive power of making appointments in the Public Service to the Governor General, acting on the advice of the Public Service Commission (PSC). The supreme law of the land excludes ministers of Government from having any role in the appointment of public officers, except in the case of permanent secretaries, heads of department and their deputies. And then the Prime Minister is only required to be consulted before the PSC makes the recommendation for appointment to the Governor General.
The Constitution does not provide a role for politicians in the recruitment, appointment or discipline of public officers.
On the other hand, they have almost absolute control over what takes place at statutory boards. It therefore seems to me that the politicians are trying to reduce the Public Service to a series of statutory boards. I pray that day will never come. Heaven help us!
Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email email@example.com