Celebrating Jamaica Civil Service Week

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Oneil Grant, president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association

A civil servant, otherwise called a public servant, is a person in the public sector employed for a government department or agency. Starting today, civil servants across Jamaica will be celebrated during Jamaica Civil Service Week, which has been observed annually during the third week of November since 1992. The celebration of Jamaica Civil Service Week commenced under the auspices of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) and then-Governor General, the late Sir Howard Cooke. According to a 2014 Civil Service Week newsletter, “the celebration is geared towards highlighting the worth and work of outstanding civil servants who have given excellent service to central government and to the country on a whole.”

Let us look at some facts about the civil service in Jamaica:

  1. The Civil Service Establishment Act, an act to make provision for the establishment of offices in the public service and for matters connected therewith, became operational on February 1, 1976.
  2. The JCSA was established on May 6, 1919 – predating all of Jamaica’s major trade unions, to represent and safeguard the legitimate interests of workers in the public service. This involves lobbying for salary improvements, handling grievances and improving the civil servants’ social lot (home ownership, buying a car, etc.)
  3. Today, women make up about 65 per cent of the Jamaican civil service corps, but back in the day, they were not allowed to occupy any clerical or administrative post regardless of their qualification. In the mid-1950s, three women – Gloria Knight, Carmen Parris and Pat Levy – were allowed to do administrative work, thus breaking the glass ceiling. They were termed ‘Administrative Cadets.’
  4. Civil service matters are administered by the ministry with responsibility for the public service. That is presently the Public Service Establishment Division (PSED) in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

From the World Bank’s Civil Service Law & Employment Regimes document:

Historically, civil service employment was not a formal agreement between two equal parties, but rather a decision of the State. Today, civil service employment tends to share some features that are typical of a voluntary arrangement between an employer and employee in the private sector. However, several criteria continue to distinguish civil servant status from other employment arrangements. These criteria can be summarized as follows:

  • Civil servants are “appointed” by decision of an authorized public institution in accordance with the civil service law. A decision by a representative of the State to “appoint” a civil servant must conform with established rules that structure the hiring process.
  • Once appointed, there are many constraints on dismissal. This is because civil servants are not simply employees of the state; they also have a constitutional role. The intent of civil service legislation is to balance the requirement these employees be responsive to the government of the day, with the parallel requirement that they respect and maintain state institutions over time. In other words, additional job security is provided in order to prevent short-term political pressures from leading to inappropriate personnel changes.
  • There are more constraints on the actions of civil servants than on other groups. Again, this is because of the strategic and constitutional role of civil servants. The Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention, 1982 (No. 151) provides details of the fundamental labour rights of civil servants (the right to organize, to participate in consultations or negotiations in relation to their terms of employment and to settlement of disputes).
  • The employees concerned are within civilian central government or subnational government.