By Brenton Smith

Pension reform is a serious issue that should not be taken lightly.

Over two decades ago, when I decided to join the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, I was told that upon retirement at age 55, I would be eligible for pension.

Based on this, I decided to join the organisation, knowing that I would be able to sustain myself, and perhaps my grandchildren, after retirement. Upon becoming a member of the Police Force I realised that there was a special arrangement in place, in that, a police officer who worked up to 10 years, was eligible for gratuity and after 20 years, was pensionable. This incentive worked well for members and, I believe, motivated them to stay in the organisation for such periods and to serve the country faithfully and well.

My particular concern is that one day, this entitlement to pension, having worked so hard for all these years and sacrificed so much, maybe no more. We must ensure that this does not happen and we must protect what we worked hard for. Politicians receive a pension after nine years, while we will work 20 to 35 years and will only receive the crumbs.

While I agree that pension reform is necessary, I am of the view that proper consultations must be done at every level. The new Minister of Finance stated that tough decisions have to be made but will be done through consultations with the unions and other stakeholders. I welcome this approach, although the process seems longwinded.

In an article published by iWitness News on Jan. 2, 2018, it was reported that during the budget consultations last year — which included Prime Minister Gonsalves, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, and representative of the trade unions — that the prime minister said a “class war” could break out in St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the matter of pension reform.

According to the article, the prime minister went on to suggest some extreme measures the government could take, such as hiring public servants and police officers on contracts without state pension benefits, if a favourable compromise on pension reform cannot be reached.

Well, can you imagine what could become, under such a system, of the application for renewal of a contract of a hard-working, knowledgeable police officer who the commissioner does not favour?

Can you imagine what standards and discipline in the Police Force would be like under such a system? What professional career can one get under such a system? In the prime minister’s budget address of 2013, he indicated that the national pension scheme’s dependency ratio was projected to quadruple.

In 2010, 100 active contributors supported 17 pensioners, and by 2060 to 2070, 100 active contributors would be needed to support about 64 pensioners.

While 2060 may seem far away and may not affect many of us directly, we must consider the young, working-class employees who are our future. This, to me, is frightening and must be taken seriously in our deliberation on the issue of pension reform. I have always urged my colleagues when it comes to pension reform that we must be steadfast and ready to deal with it front-on.

The prime minister is on record stating that he was sorry that Sir James wasn’t strong enough to resist his demands while in opposition on the issue of pension reform, which he (Gonsalves) has to face today as prime minister. It tells us, therefore, that politicians will tell us what we want to hear but not necessarily what the facts are. I, therefore, urge us all to come together as a people, leaving your politics aside, to deal with this critical issue.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

7 replies on “Amidst reform, workers must defend their pensions”

  1. PM still blaming the opposition after seventeen years in power. How low can you stoop Mr. PM? While you could fool some people sometimes, you can’t fool all the people all the time. I am beginning to suspect that the country is bankrupt. That is why the people’s financial affairs are so clouded. Workers pensions should not be a political issue. This PM doesn’t appear to have a clue. No wonder he can’t give account without blaming the opposition. Good luck my friend, you already know what you have to do next election.

      1. C. ben-David says:

        I was writing in reply to Sgt. Smith, not to you.

        Still, I believe that Sir James Mitchell also ran the country into the ground during his 16 undeserved years of reign.

  2. C. ben-David says:

    As elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Vincentian police force, especially its male component, is widely seen as composed of the most biased, poorly trained, ignorant, indifferent, and incompetent public servants in society.

    If you never get a pension, most people will say that you have done nothing to deserve one, the best proof being your barefaced assertion that, “Based on this premise [receiving a full pension at the age of 55] I decided to join the organisation knowing that I would be able to sustain myself and perhaps my grandchildren after such retirement.”

    Indeed, a lot of West Indians believe that the police are on semi-retirement the moment they join the force.

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