Union seeks better answers on public service contracts

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PSA industrial court staff representative Duaine Hewitt speaks to the media as he leads a protest on Independence Square, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Hewitt is making a plea for more information on contract positions in the public service. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

DUAINE HEWITT, head of the Industrial Court section of the Public Services Association (PSA), alleged a response to his queries about the landscape of jobs in the Public Service, as he spoke to a half-hour protest of about 150 workers at Independence Square, Port of Spain, on Wednesday.

He lamented the responses garnered by his flurry of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA.)

Hewitt also said that while wider talks between the union and Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Dr Darryl Dindial on a proposed four per cent wage hike were before the Industrial Court, smaller matters affecting workers could be addressed.

Recent letters from the government service were short on details of the various numbers of public service positions, he lamented.

Hewitt cited a letter dated September 21 from a freedom of information officer in the Personnel Department.

It referred to his original question in a letter dated August 22 asking for the number of contract positions and salaries paid in the Public Service, and similar details for short-term contract positions and for permanent positions. Regarding the four FOIA requests for details of contact and short-term contract positions, the Personnel Department letter replied, “The information being sought is not in the possession of the Personnel Department.”

Hewitt asked aloud how could such basic information not be known.

PSA members participate in a small protest on Independence Square, in Port of Spain, on Wednesday. – Ayanna Kinsale

Further, the Personnel Department letter also said Hewitt’s inquiry had asked details about a “consequential policy” which says someone can’t be paid if they are acting in a post whose substantive occupant is also acting in a higher post but has not yet got approval by the Services Commissions Department (SCD.)

The official response letter continued, “The information being sought is not in possession of the Personnel Department.”

Hewitt also referred to queries under the FOIA to the SCD by himself on August 22 and by Darren Ali, head of the PSA’s Treasury Division unit, on October 12, 2021.

He cited the SCD’s response, “The payment of acting allowances in the Public Service does not fall under the purview of the Service Commission Department. Your query can be directed to the head of the accounts department in your respective ministry/department.”

Hewitt marvelled that the Personnel Department and SCD did not know about a consequential policy and he asked aloud whether the policy was something simply made up within individual ministry’s. Hewitt also expressed concerns about alleged delays in filling vacancies, unfair bypassing for acting appointments, delay in first approval for acting appointments, delay in staff reports/performance appraisals, delay in increments, and the whereabouts of a seniority listing.