Some time ago, I wrote that I did not want this column to become the Dear Christine of Industrial Relations. But I have been inundated by queries about the Public Service (Qualifications) Order, 2016 and since the just concluded Estimates Debate, many public workers and journalists have been seeking clarifications and comments on matters that were raised by members of parliament.
The Minister of Finance threw out the suggestion that public officers should be asked to contribute to their pensions. That statement would suggest that the Minister is unfamiliar with the policy considerations behind public officers receiving what appears to be non-contributory pensions .
Older public service administrators would tell you that their pensions are effectively the payment of deferred earnings. The rationale, behind the granting of their pensions, is that public officers receive a salary that is smaller than they deserve because a portion is deferred to pay pensions. Some may say that this explanation is far-fetched but I can assure you that the rules of the Public Service, particularly the General Orders support such a proposition.
Public Officers who work on contract are not entitled to pensions but receive emoluments that are 20% higher than their counterparts who hold pensionable posts. To strengthen that point, a public officer who is seconded (loaned out) to an approved employer is not entitled to receive his public service salary but the new employer can pay 25% of the officer’s salary into the Treasury, so that he would not lose any pensionable service. General Orders 2.16 (g) and (h) and 2.22.2 are relevant.
General Order 2.16 states, in part:
A gratuity is payable to an officer or employee on contract provided that such a payment cannot apply to any period of service which is counted as pensionable service. The following conditions apply to the payment of gratuity to an officer or employee on contract:
(g) if an officer who is serving on contract becomes a member of the permanent and pensionable service from a date immediately following the completion of his contract, he shall not be eligible for the payment of a gratuity
(h) any contribution made by the Government to a superannuation scheme on behalf of an officer on contract shall be deducted from any gratuity payable to that officer on completion of his contract.
Further General Order 2.22.2 states:
A person who is seconded to service with an approved employer shall, during the period of his secondment, cease to receive the emoluments attached to his office but shall nevertheless, if the approved employer agrees to pay to the Crown a contribution in respect of his pension during the period of his secondment at the prescribed rate, be deemed to continue to hold such office for the purposes of the relevant pensions legislation.
That should be enough evidence to substantiate that public servant’s emoluments are structured in such a way that pensionable officers receive receive 20% less pay in order to receive a pension. It would seem that the Minister, who pays 5% of his salary toward his pension, is suggesting that public officers should give up more than 20% for a similar benefit.
Another Minister speaking from a similarly uninformed position poured scorn on public employees who have medical conditions that would prevent them from doing strenuous physical work.
When the National Insurance scheme was introduced, there was a system where some public workers would receive full pay up to 12 months sick leave. Government therefore opted to leave that system in place and did not pay or require its employees to pay the portion of the NIS contribution that would allow those workers to receive sickness benefits.
If a doctor determines that a public worker is unfit to do his job but is still capable of doing less strenuous work, there are three options: Place the worker on sick leave so that he continues to receive full salary; ask the employer to provide less strenuous work, in which case Government still receives some level of work for the money it pays out; or declare him to be unfit for work so that the worker may qualify for an early public service pension and a NIS disablement or invalidity benefit.
Space does not permit me to deal with the Public Service (Qualifications) Order, 2016 except to say that persons who are immediately disadvantaged by the order should seek legal advice since their legitimate expectation to promotion could have been unlawfully extinguished by the new order.