Grievance Handling

Over the years, there has been a supercilious approach to the handling of grievances across the Public Service at all levels. This approach became the norm in spite of the fact that there was an agreed procedure for grievance handling between the then Establishment Division (Ministry of the Civil Service) and the National Union of Public Workers effective June 16, 1972.

That historic agreement put to rest the notion of working at pleasure. It gave the public officers the right to be heard and set out time limits that would expedite the settlement of any personal complaints of officers and employees that may arise from time to time.

Unfortunately, the time limits and process were hardly observed. In many cases the Government agencies lacked the will, interest and understanding of the reason for the process. Workers had to struggle to have a hearing unlike when they were faced with disciplinary action.

No doubt, that temptation to ignore the workers’ right to be heard in a timely fashion forced the Union from time to time to seek legal redress. In many cases industrial action had to be threatened in order that the voice of the worker could be heard.

Despite the weakness of the application of the process, it would have provided that critical forum where contract violations, principles of human dignity and unfair treatment could be discussed and resolved.

The establishment of the Public Service Act, 2007 in its Fourth Schedule, placed in law that 1972 agreement with minor adjustments. The amendments to the Act, 2010-1 made some small adjustments to the wording contained in the principal Act. However, the time periods for determining matters have virtually remained the same as listed in the 1972 agreement.

The major issue being encountered by the Industrial Relations Officers in relation to grievance handling has to do with the first step of the process. Increasingly, we are witnessing the failure by some Ministries and Departments in responding to legitimate complaints. In many cases, they have to be prompted several times and this is tantamount to a serious breach of the Procedure. Additionally, this negligence is also a serious breach of due process.

As pointed out above, the aim of a grievance procedure is to bring swift resolution to any complaint and to have it settled by those who are nearest to it. In many cases the grievance is moved from the Ministry or Department to the Personnel Administration Division due to a lack of response. Unfortunately, the Personnel Administration Division’s approach has not been comforting. The delays in dealing with matters have been inexcusable, an affront to due process and unfair to the officers who would have made complaints – for example, (Name withheld) lodged a complaint against his reversion since May 16, 2010 with the Personnel Administration Division. A year has passed and the matter is yet to be resolved. There is nothing that is mind boggling about his complaint.

In further support of this paper I also table the cases of (Name withheld) from the Solicitor General’s Office and (Name withheld) a virtual nomad in the Public Service. (Name withheld) case has been dragging for just over a year. (Name withheld) case has been ongoing since 2008. These examples have nothing to do with the scores of outstanding matters that are on the agenda for the upcoming meeting with the Chief Personnel Officer.

The time frames as set out in the Procedure seems not to matter the Personnel Administration Division. The slow pace in finding a resolution to grievances is unacceptable and unfair to the workers. In many instances, the workers suffer financial losses as a result of the delays. There is therefore an urgent need to have the time frames honoured. Perhaps the Union should explore the workers’ right to bring action against the Attorney General in cases where the breaches are unreasonable.