The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling for a major overhaul of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS) to help solve the problem of low pay for civil and public servants.
After the rather poor negotiations by the TUC and other organised labour groups which resulted in the base pay announcement of 4 and 7 percent for 2021 and 2022 – the lowest increment in a decade – the rising agitations have thus pushed the TUC to begins calls for an amendment to the salary structure of workers.
The tensions which have brought to bear the nagging issue of pay inequality among public sector workers – those appointed, those recruited and civil servants – seem reluctant to slow down, with the TUC trying to point the finger of blame at the Fair Wages and Salary Commission (FWSC).
The Director of Labour Research and Policy Institute at the TUC, Dr. Kwabena Nyarko Otoo, explained to B&FT that the Single Spine was introduced with clear objectives: that it would eventually lead to enhanced pay for people in the public sector; address pay inequities; and ultimately also reduce bargaining centres within the public sector.
“All of these have not materialised; pay in the public sector is still very low; pay inequities are high; and there is an energetic attempt by public sector entities to exit the Single Spine, with some already exited.”
He further noted that the SSSS had an objective of bringing all public service entities into one bargaining centre, but as it stands, “Some entities have different laws which define separate roots for determining their pay, so some of them go to Fair Wages and say ‘our salaries are supposed to be determined by our governing board and not Fair Wages’. It clearly shows that the Single Spine from the word go failed to harmonise payment laws in the public sector”.
Dr. Nyarko Otoo added that organised labour has had a series of talks with government which led to the setting up of a committee to look into these matters; the committee submitted its report to the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relation in 2018, but nothing concrete has come out of this.
But the Former CEO of the FWSC and currently an International Consultant to the government of Sierra Leone at the Ministry of Finance, George Smith-Graham, in an interview with the B&FT said the report is categorical on activation of the Independent Emoluments Commission (IEC) – an apex body to determine salaries, wages and allowances for all public sector workers; whether elected, appointed or recruited.
This will provide a single source to determine the wages of public servants. “All documents of the IEC are ready and with the ministry. A bill needed to provide legal backing to the IEC is also ready; consultants were engaged and they completed the work. All that’s left to be done is the activation process,” Mr. Smith-Graham said.
He believes this will resolve the labour agitation associated with salaries to a large extent, as the IEC is compelled to be transparent and fair in its dealings as it is required to show a high level of openness.
He added that main aim of the IEC is to provide government with the opportunity to have a long-term salary structure that dovetails into economic planning.
He acknowledged that composition of the IEC will require a referendum, as some portions of the law which would pave way for its establishment are entrenched. “When I was in office, I was briefed that these entrenched portions would be dealt with through a referendum, which would be organised alongside the district assembly election.”
Current payment status-quo fear
Mr. Smith-Graham noted that the current status-quo of salary determination gives too much power to government to make arbitrary decisions.
“One day, I foresee a government leaving power and increasing the salaries of public sector workers and civil servants arbitrarily. The current laws allow for that, and such an incident would greatly un-stabilise an incoming government.
“I can’t see workers saying they would give away an increase granted in this fashion, but a decision like that would be dire for economic planning. If we set up the IEC, such a move would be impossible because of the checks which have been put in place in the law.”