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Letter to Editor: Monthly contracts are turning MoE workers into modern-day slaves

“To date there are approximately 250 individuals whose three year contracts have come to an end and are now on monthly contracts. In fact this has been the situation for the last year and a half and relates to technical officers in various departments such as IT, Text books, Research, Evaluation, Policy, etc.

“It is important to note that when one is on a monthly contract that means:

  • We have no entitlement to paid vacation;
  • We have no entitlement to sick leave;
  • If we stay home due to illness or an emergency we don’t get paid;
  • We have on entitlement to a gratuity;
  • We have no entitlement to get a job letter;
  • You don’t get paid on time.

“So in essence, for the last year and a half, these are the kind of conditions we have had to work under, which is in violation of the Industrial Relations Act.”

The following Letter to the Editor on conditions faced by contract workers at the Ministry of Education was sent to Wired868 by an anonymous employee:

Photo: A frustrated employee at work.
Photo: A frustrated employee at work.

Unfortunately I have no choice but to again use this medium to address the issues relating to the current position of Contract Workers at the Ministry of Education. Firstly, I would like to address a statement that was made by the Minister in an article published in the Trinidad Guardian on 16 July 2016.

In the article, the Minister stated that “short term employees were hired based on the immediate needs of the ministry at the time and that when these needs were fulfilled, those contracts will come to an end.”

First off, the Ministry does indeed hire “Short Term Employees” during exam time and registration for exams. However the issue to which I am writing relates to those employees who were hired on a three-year contract.

To date there are approximately 250 individuals whose three-year contracts have come to an end and are now on monthly contracts. In fact, this has been the situation for the last year and a half and relates to technical officers in various departments such as IT, Text books, Research, Evaluation, Policy etc. It is important to note that when one is on a monthly contract that means:

  • We have no entitlement to paid vacation;
  • We have no entitlement to sick leave;
  • If we stay home due to illness or an emergency we don’t get paid;
  • We have on entitlement to a gratuity;
  • We have no entitlement to get a job letter;
  • You don’t get paid on time.
Photo: An abusive relationship between boss and employee. (Copyright Shutterstock)
Photo: An abusive relationship between boss and employee.
(Copyright Shutterstock)

So in essence for the last year and a half these are the kind of conditions we have had to work under, which is in violation of the Industrial Relations Act.

You are however expected to continue to perform at your optimum and deliver. What makes these conditions far worse is that during this time many officers have decided to just leave and not take up the monthly contract.

As a result, we now have departments running below capacity in terms of manpower and are even short-staffed. We even have cases of Head of Department, who are on contract, leaving with junior officers—who lack the necessary skills—taking over.

Just recently, at the end of September, many of us who were on six month contracts had to take three days off—with no pay—and were told to wait until HR called up.

Many expected to at least get another six month contract until things were sorted. However to our surprise, although the Permanent Secretary approved additional six month periods, the HR department played favouritism and chose to only give those six month renewals to some and others just got Month to Month Contracts.

Photo: Okay, that is going to be a problem...
Photo: Okay, that is going to be a problem…

I was told by someone in the HR department that if the person did not like you or thought that your Department was not important, you were given a Month to Month. Really, in this day and age this is still happening.

Additionally yesterday—and this is the reason behind this letter—I found out that there were Cabinet notes done, regarding the extension of positions for an additional three year contract period, allegedly stuck on an HR officer’s desk for the last three months. The reason was that the HR person supposedly did not know what to do with the Cabinet note, so she just left it there.

This is the disdain that many Public Officers have for contract workers. Yet we are the ones who work late into the night, get called out on weekends, carry work home to finish, and have to neglect our families to get the work done.

Many Public Officers would cite the Regulations on their duties and bring their union to represent them. We, contract officers, have no union to represent us and no one to take our case to the Industrial Court. And if you speak out, well say goodbye to that Monthly Contract.

Imagine in a Ministry where the Minister—Anthony Garcia—is a former union leader and who is quoted as saying that Month to Month Contracts are akin to slavery, this still continues to persist for close to 18 months.

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.

I have reached the point of probably going home and working PH taxi or CEPEP or something. Because as far as I am concerned, the Minister and the Senior Executive of the Ministry of Education don’t care for contract officers.

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253 comments

  1. All salaried workers are wage slaves!

  2. Gemma I disagree with you Some work very hard

  3. Great is the PNM . This is what you ppl voted for . Mind you Rowley living nice ….

  4. This has been the case in other ministries also.

  5. ANSWERS NOW PLEASE……!!!!!!!!

  6. If we say they are not working then be without them for a month and see.

  7. If this is a true statement then the Minister needs to address this situation urgently. And for those who say all ministry workers do is sit around and collect pay checks I beg you to do thorough investigations before making blanket and unfair comments

  8. Mr. Nicholas Steupz – just remember that PNM is the Political Party that the people of Trinidad and Tobago elected to govern the country. This is not a PNM problem, it is a problem of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Maybe if we can just separate the two we might be able to deal with the problems in a more realistic manner. Just saying.

  9. thats the best way to control people…keep them beholding…

  10. They were not complaining before, makes one wonder if they were collecting money and not working…..now u have to work to earn….welcome to the real and honest work world….stop complaining and do your work.

  11. All Government employees do is sit around all day anyway, doing nothing but taking home a paycheck. That’s why they’re on short term contracts. When Government has to downsize, contract workers are the first to go! They’re NOT trained, educated properly to do the jobs they were hired to do, customer service is non existent and all of them want you to come back next day, week, month. I haven’t yet been told ‘next year’ but am sure some people have! Pathetic!

    • That’s a crass generalization, don’t you think?

    • Tell me, and be honest now, when have you EVER gone to a Gov’t office and been able to conduct AND conclude your business with them on the same day,week or month????

    • So you’re saying that every government worker on a short term contract sits in an office and don’t do their jobs? There is a lot more to the the MOE than the few who sit in offices. The Moe has many branches. Some even teach the nation’s children. Fyi. Have a seat. Who feels it knows it. That month to month is so serious you can’t generalize. #BS

    • Gemma Gadishaw Licencing office in Princes Town and San Fernando, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Community Development, my Local Corporation, where I work (ICT Access Centre, under the Min of Public Administration)… It sounds like you don’t get out the house much to experience good service.

    • Month to month contract employment is really about worker exploitation….judgement in the Industrial Court has addressed this. While there are some really crass public service employees, those at the WASA and TTEC offices in Couva are beyond exemplary…..there should be more like them….

    • 99.9 percent needs training….
      Just this week my daughter and granddaughter had dealings with a member of staff at the MoE….the treatment was despicable. ….

  12. I would like Wired to check on how many Denominational Schools are paying their ancillary staff the correct wages as stipulated by Government. The boards of some of these schools are profiting from the government and the Auditors are not doing their jobs.

  13. How would the ministers like it if they were on monthly contract , please fix this.

  14. Slaves don’t get paid at all. Let’s be precise with our language.

    • Modern day slaves not our ancestors. Not because we are being paid does not meen we are not being exploited.

    • I never said they aren’t being exploited. I said they aren’t slaves. There are millions of people who are actually being trafficked as slaves today. Let’s be precise with our language.

    • I think the statement “modern day slaves” suggests that the author knows they aren’t exactly slaves Cate. Semantics.

    • They are also not “modern-day slaves.” Slaves are not paid. Slaves cannot leave. Slaves are owned. Slaves have no say in their own lives. An employer being negligent about working conditions is not slavery. It’s an indication that an investigation needs to be done to give the workers some relief. Words mean things.

    • Cate Young When Bob Marley sings Redemption song, the message is the same. We have to free ourselves from mental slavery. Slaves do get ‘paid’ with food and lodging. See what newly elected French president is saying: France was sharing colonial benefits with Asia and Africa (hogwash of course) By language we can justify anything, it seems. I don’t think the use of the phrase ‘modern day slaves’ can be taken to mean other than what it purports, that is, something old with a new twist.

    • Really? Slaves were not “paid” in food. Food was a necessary expenditure for extracting their labour. Do you pay your car in gas or do you need gas to run your car? Metaphors have a place. This is not it. But I supposed I shouldn’t be wary that so many seem eager to be identified as slaves? 🤔

    • Cate Young Eager???!! Necessary expenditure??? I may speculate that the use of the word applied to contracts is trying to convey an atrocity, not an identification! It was the PP that insisted on month-to-month contracts.

    • If food was a necessary expenditure for attracting labour, then what is the minimum wage?
      Look beyond the chains Cate. Slavery was about getting cheap labour so as to maximise profit. I’d say cheap and not free because slave owners still had to house, feed and care for slaves in so much as they needed them healthy to work hard in the fields.
      Companies like Apple and Nike cannot use slaves anymore and don’t think they wouldn’t if they could. So they use the next best thing, which might be child labour and so on.
      Hence the term “modern day slavery”, to me, just means that ruthless businessmen have evolved from one form of cheap labour to another.
      It is far better than slavery. But it still does not give employees the benefits they should enjoy in 2016.
      You haven’t commented on the issues raised at all. All your attention is aimed at just one phrase in the entire article.

    • I don’t know how to explain to an adult the difference between “cheap” and “free” when we clearly have a model of indentureship that makes that difference clear. I haven’t commented on the issue of the workers because there’s nothing to debate there. I have zero issue with their concerns and I hope they find relief. If in 2016 I have to explain how slavery works then I don’t know that further comment is necessary as it clearly falls on deaf and ill-informed ears. There’s no way anyone is making the “they were paid in food and housing” argument in the 21st century without irony and expecting to be taken seriously. Slavery was an economic model that involved the extraction of free labour. For you to reduce that and equate it to this even in metaphor is a travesty. But perhaps it is this very situation that is to blame for our widespread lack of knowledge around chattel slavery! Hopefully a swift resolution will bring enlightenment to some.

    • No business model involves free labour Cate Young. The first problem is you think you have all the answers on this and we only need to hush and listen attentively to receive enlightenment from your wisdom.
      You might be surprised what would happen if you approached this conversation with an open mind.
      Thanks for the lesson on slavery. Guess I’m officially an adult now. Or getting there…

  15. This was the plan from the beginning and fully exploited by the past regime!

  16. Sadly this happening in all Ministries.

  17. If i was a unsuccessful business man and i wanted to exploit my employees, don’t pay taxes, do age discrimination, ignore safety laws, sexual harassment etc, i moved to TNT, business wil blossom , i be a multi millionare,

  18. I use to carry a book when visiting the education office. That’s how poor the service was. I read while the numerous people behind the counter decided whose turn it was to handle visitors. A colleague said she went 11:00 am for an item as was not served until 2:00. If you can’t appreciate a job and only want to dress up someone else should get it.

  19. Well that might explain their disrespectful attitude and their unwillingness to work.

  20. He reminds me of a Former PNM High Commissioner to Ottawa. The entire staff in the Consulate had to stand up when he arrived in the office and salute him. Patrick Manning told me that the man’s wife had to do the same thing when he came home.

  21. My grandmother uses to say “half a loaf, is better than no loaf.”

    If those people on contract believe that it’s modern day slavery, then in a free market economy, they can sell their services to someone else.

    From the functions outlined, it’s obvious that these are professionals, whose qualifications and experience makes them marketable.

    Why then sell yourself into slavery? I’m certain that the Service Commission didn’t place a gun to anyone’s head and say “take these conditions or else!”

    Why then are we seeking to create the perception in the minds of people that the Government is in some way responsible for the conditions of employment? As for as I understand things, an offer is given, an offer is accepted. If the conditions are dispensing, then do not sign on to it. If the employer realizes that they cannot retain services with shitty conditions, then the conditions will change.

    Wake up and Stop complaining people

    • Ruel Ellis in theory that sounds nice, but put this into the mix, you have bills to pay, children to take care of, your significant other may be unemployed or also undermployed. You tried to get a permanent appointment through the Service Commission, but that takes years what do you do seriously please tell me.

    • you talking like a economist talks Ruel Ellis, free markets and what not. your assumptions are that if a person does not like a government contract they could just jump up and get something else. Fact is most people who on government contracts have no other choice, AND the bad treatment starts after you signed the contract in terms of poor working conditions (i type this wearing a dustmask because of the mould ridden government office) , late pay, years waiting on gratuity (2 so far)…

    • There is no free market in the Public Service Ruel Ellis. Where did you get that idea? Public Servants cannot strike or get locked out by the State when negotiations break down for the price of their Labour

    • Please provide me with a list of employers that I can send my CV to.

      Much Appreciated

    • Contract Employees are NOT Public Servants….

      Joann consult SKILL SHARE

  22. many government institutions/state agencies falling in this category

    • there are many pros and cons to permanent, temporary and contract work. Its a personal decision. There is a new type of employee out there. No longer are they spending 30 years in a job, They move around according to salary, Across the globe governments are unable to provide pensions to workers.Contact work is global. Some persons seek contract work as a stepping stone to move on. For the employer, several things have to be taken into consideration, such as time spent on training and they leave. With permanent employees , you run the risk that you train them, they don’t perform (academic qualification) and you cant fire them, so stuck with them. We complain, but the reality is when oil prices are good, the government ,( the largest employer) hires people to ensure that the ;oil patrimony trickles down to the citizens. It the 2nd time around recession and public servants take the brunt of the budget cuts because as the largest middle class the carry the weight of the country , re taxes, NIS etc. the recession is global , and the government has to be strategic in its decision, so cuts, hard as it may be have to come. This is not about self , you or me , its bigger than all of us and we have to survive. I don’t want my granddaughter bogged down with debts that we created because of mismanagement and selfishness .

  23. If the govt is the biggest employer of contract Labour then what is left for the private sector to do ? Follow ent ? On the brighter side the new minister is really trying to bring down the amt by making contract workers permanent .

  24. Should it matter who started the implementation? If it not right it’s not right. If you can afford a month to month for years then it is inhumane and exploitative. People needs benefits such as vacation leave, sick leave, etc and adequate compensation packages. It does not matter who is in power honesty and fairness should always be the watch word.

  25. The whole problem is NOT CONTRACT employment but the MANIPULATION by politicians of jobs in the public service. These go to party supporters in the main, especially in the state enterprises sector.

  26. Please… wide spread short term contracts began in the service in 2010 and got progressively worse up to 2015. People have been suffering for a long time now.