Archive for August 7th, 2009

Civil service still fears job and pay cuts

| 07/08/2009 | 22 Comments

(CNS): Hundreds of civil servants packed the meeting hall on the George Hicks campus last night when they came out to hear what government officials had to say about the impending cuts to the public sector. While they were promised that there would be no redundancies or cuts to basic wages, many still said they believed there would be job losses and reductions in pay. Leaving the meeting, a number of public sector workers said while they were told there would have to be sacrifices they were disappointed that no details of those sacrifices were revealed.  Many said that although they were not necessarily anymore concerned than they already were, they did not feel reassured by the meeting.

Those who seemed the most concerned were foreign contract workers and a number told CNS that they believed their jobs would be cut once their contracts ended. However, a number of Caymanian civil servants also said they did not believe that there would not be job cuts. “We can’t address a deficit of this magnitude with just efficiencies. Despite what they say, I think jobs will go,” said one.

Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson, one of the government officials who offered a presentation, was commended by a number of those who attended the meeting as they said he gave clear and precise facts about what was going on. Although the press were asked not to attend what was described as a private meeting hosted by the Civil Service Association, Jefferson spoke to the press after the event.

He said he had talked the audience through last year’s deficit and predicted a $132 million deficit for the year 2009/10 if there were not serious reductions in operating expenditure. He explained that the figure was based on a further expected reduction in revenue and earnings of 10% and if operating costs remained the same as the 2008/09 year.

Although government deficits are not necessarily unusual around the world during a recession, Jefferson noted that Cayman could ill afford to carry such a massive shortfall. “That would be all well and good if we had money in reserve or we were a rich oil nation, but we’re not,” he said.  

Jefferson also said he told the audience that the government’s monthly HR bill for wages and benefits was $21 million. However, he said the elected government was committed to not reducing basic salaries or make anyone redundant, but where vacancies occurred those posts would not be filled unless it was absolutely necessary and jobs would go through natural loss.

He said as far as contracts were concerned, chief officers would have to think hard about the need for renewals — an area that will impact foreign civil servants.

James Watler, President of the Association, said that he was really pleased with how civil servants were rallying together to help reduce the deficit, and he said that his association was against any form of job losses, be it local or foreign civil servants, and he was not differentiating between the two. He said the governor, Stuart Jack, had promised he would protect jobs.

“We are not separating the sheep and the goats,” he said. “We are all in this together and the governor has promised he will look out for civil servants’ jobs and that all public sector workers are treated fairly. We know there will be sacrifices but the service is standing shoulder to shoulder though this storm and we will get through it,” he added.

Civil servants also heard from Gloria McField-Nixon, the new chief officer in the portfolio, who said that, despite changes to the Public Management and Finance Law, the civil service had not increased as much as the public has been lead to believe and had grown in the last five years by 18% and not as high as had been suggested by 48%. She further noted that the civil service had reduced since January of this year down to around 3,199 employees today.

James Watler said that he believed the recruitment freeze introduced earlier this year had helped to reduce numbers and that it would continue to keep the wage bill down as others left and were not replaced. He also said that many, many ideas had been submitted to the portfolio about cutting costs and already some had been implemented, according to officials, but Watler said they were not told exactly what those were.

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Anglin mulls infant class

| 07/08/2009 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Two months into the job, the new Minister for Education Rolston Anglin says he has not decided on anything but one of the measures he is looking into is the reintroduction of the infant year to the public system, and believes that getting children into the system early would make a more significant impact than having an additional year at the end. Anglin also said that he and the ministers with responsibilities for social services and health all have in mind an individual to bridge all three ministries and act as a liaison between the schools and relevant agencies.

“It’s a cliché that everything starts from home, but there is no doubt in my mind that the education system also has a part to play," he said. "Good teachers and the proper support structure in schools can turn lives around.” Noting that he personally knew people from disadvantaged homes who, because of strong caring teachers, have achieved success, he said, “Good teachers can make failing students into average students, average students into good students and good students into exceptional students.”

He said there were those with potential that were not getting the five O’ levels that they could. “The system does not do enough for the bottom 30% or really the second 20%,” the minister thought.

While he is still taking stock of the situation, one decision made is to move suspension as a punishment out of the Alternative Education Centre and back into schools. The minister said he believes in the structure of discipline but there should also be the opportunity to change and turn lives around. Young people have greater capacity to make mistakes and we should not give up on them, he said.

Anglin said he has asked for the number of suspensions by teacher as he had heard that certain teachers have a higher propensity to suspend students, which he saw as a professional development issue, and believes there should be consistency in the system. He has also asked for all of the schools’ rules and graduation criteria. It is important to ensure that all schools are being consistent, the minister believed.

“While there’s been a lot of glitz and glamour over last four years, I’m not convinced about open space learning — that it is appropriate for the Cayman Islands” Anglin said. They needed to weigh up the cost of changing the plans but he thought this would pale in comparison to the cost of failed students. For example, he said, on the Clifton Hunter site the science lab is in a big u-shape, designed for two classes to be run simultaneously with no barrier. “I cannot be convinced that teenagers can focus on one teacher while another teacher is a few feet away also trying to run a class,” he said.

The minister also questioned the implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) system in primary schools. When he had asked for the policy document on the programme he had been sent a link to the IB website. “How I like to manage, if you have an idea you do a proper business plan listing the strengths and weaknesses after consulting with the experienced practitioners we have in the schools. That has not been done, even though former minister said it was,” he said. Recalling a meeting with principals, he said while they thought some teaching practices that came along with the IB had helped, they were not 100% sure that IB was the way to go.

“There has to be a framework,” he said. “Many times I get answers without details. I cannot live and manage that way, especially in a ministry that is for governing this country. If I wanted to run a business that way that’s my business, but this is the people’s business.”

He and Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues would be reviewing the teaching and learning and the system generally, “taking stock of where are, what works well and what’s not working well. We will look carefully at some of the recent initiatives and make some crucial decisions as to what will feature long term.”

One thing he had learned on visits with school principals was that the social and learning issues were broader and deeper than he expected. “We know teens have to struggle with behaviour learning, but there are 5 year olds that are seeing a behavioural psychologist,” Anglin noted.

A believer that social workers in the school system can help, Anglin said that he and Minister for Social Services Mike Adam and Health Minister Mark Scotland all have in mind an individual to bridge all three ministries and act as liaison between the schools and agencies. “I don’t believe there is a lack of will but a lot of what has been tried is not working,” he said.

The new education minister has a different approach to the job, which he says is a result of his peculiar background as an auditor. “It was how I was trained to look at things. I see it as a business case – how to minimize risks. It’s definitely an auditor’s mindset,” he said.

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