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The Police (Amendment) Bill gives all constable and corporals the choice of retiring at age 55.

ST. VINCENT: – Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace is hailing his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) contribution to securing an extended age of retirement for all police constable and corporals.

The Police (Amendment) Bill, passed in Parliament late May, gives existing and incoming police officers under the rank of sergeant, the option of retiring at age 55, a five year extension.

It is a change to a law that survived 40 years of internal self governance and independence, the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) pointed out in its weekly newspaper column, in which it listed benefits that cops have received during its nine-year administration.

However, Eustace said on Monday that a strict political approach to the Bill by the NDP could have cost many police officers the benefit that the amended legislation offers.

The old law required the retirement of constables and corporals at the age of 50 years unless they were recommended for extensions and the Cabinet agreed. (Go to the homepage to subscribe to I Witness-News)

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He said the first draft of the amended legislation gave the option of retirement at age 55 only for person who were yet to join the Police Force, with existing officers still having to apply to the Cabinet as the old law required.

“Cabinet is free to deny you if they wanted to. And, and if the Commissioner [of Police], for instance … was to say he doesn’t recommend you, crapo smoke yuh pipe,” Eustace said, meaning all odd would have been against the officer.

He said opposition parliamentarians felt that the relevant cops should only have to indicate their desire to continue working until age 55.

He said while some supporters of his party felt that his approach was stupid politics, he wanted to ensure that all existing constable and corporals also got the option of retiring at age 55.

He said he expressed in private to Prime Minster Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the NDP’s views on the proposed revision to the legislation.

Gonsalves agreed to shelve the Bill until the last meeting of Parliament — on May 28 — and the government sided with the opposition, giving existing and future constable and corporals the option of retiring at age 55.

“That is what we wanted to achieve,” Eustace said, adding that the opposition secure another change to the proposed amendments, giving officers up to a year to decide if they wanted to continue working until 55. The government had proposed six months.

He said the alternative approach to the legislation was to oppose it publicly in Parliament.

“I chose not to do that because the government wouldn’t [have wanted] to bend to the opposition so they might have very well passed it in the old way that it was,” he said.

“I thought it was wiser to try to get them to change it without playing the politics … I know people criticized me for it. Some members told me I should have left it so. But, in the end, it is the policemen who would have suffered,” Eustace said.

‘Material benefits’

The ULP in its column spoke of the “major material benefits” that cops have received since the party came to office in 2001.

Among these, it listed salary increase averaging 65 percent between 2002 and 2009; annual bonuses, except in 2009; reduction in the rate of income tax; a two-month increase — up to three months — in paid maternity leave, paternity leave available for the first time; improved infrastructure and increased resource and training and education.