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Kristen Gyles | Society of inequity: From pawn to king

Published:Friday | June 2, 2023 | 1:10 AM
In this February photo, two female workers are seen assisting a patient on a wheelchair at the Spanish Town Hospital.
In this February photo, two female workers are seen assisting a patient on a wheelchair at the Spanish Town Hospital.

Nine days have passed but there is still more to be said on the matter of the inflated salaries being awarded to the political directorate and other public sector senior-level staff. Some of the justifications that have been given regarding the increases would really be amusing if they weren’t so disappointing.

First, it has been repeated many times over, albeit often by members of parliament (MPs) themselves, that MPs are some of the hardest workers in the country. When they aren’t claiming that they never get to sleep, don’t have time to scratch their heads, and are altogether busier than everyone else, they speak to the vast scope of responsibility within their remit as representatives of large constituencies.

Much like many Jamaicans, I have never seen the MP for my constituency. I have also never seen any evidence of his presence within my constituency, notwithstanding being a constituent for over nine years. While some will argue that this is an accountability issue, the other issue is that we have bought into the baseless assumption that MPs have a whole lot more work to do than everyone else and that many of them simply don’t do it.

My question to one proponent of this argument recently was what exactly do the day-to-day duties of a member of parliament entail? The person couldn’t answer. In hindsight, the question was perhaps unfair, since MPs themselves can hardly be clear on what their duties entail since job descriptions for MPs are just now about to be tabled in Parliament. It is therefore left to an MP to decide on the select projects they would like to initiate and where they are successful in carrying out the duties they set for themselves, they are usually applauded.

LONG HOURS OF WORK

If you talk to the average medical professional, they will tell you all about the long hours they work and the exhaustion they suffer. If you talk to the average teacher, they will tell you all about the number of papers they carry home to mark and the pressure they face at exam time. If you talk to the average police officer, they will tell you about how often their safety becomes compromised while on the job and they will tell you about their deceased colleagues who were sacrificed on the line of duty.

The responsibility that rests on some of these same professionals is incomparable. Some professional errors or incidences of neglect, if made by a doctor, nurse, security guard or police officer, can easily result in loss of life. So, tell me again, what exactly is the basis for the automatic assumption that members of parliament must be paid more than all the other public sector groups?

The notion that these politicians were making some kind of superhuman sacrifice by collecting a minimum of $4 million annually is beyond me. If professional groups are not making a sacrifice by being paid at that level, then neither are political representatives. Mark you, there is no professional group called ‘members of parliament’. MPs need not prove to anyone that they are qualified to do anything. Yet, we are to accept that by virtue of being elected to the position of MP, they are due one of the highest salaries within the public sector, simply because they are politicians.

RATIONALE

Next in line is the rationale that senior-level staff must be handsomely paid in order for their subordinates to appropriately envy their positions of leadership and strive towards them. In other words, the pawns on the chessboard need an incentive to become king and queen. The obvious issue here is that there can only be one king and one queen on a chess board, just as there can only be one principal in a school and one matron in a hospital. What we should be doing is not trying to get all public sector workers to compete for the most prestigious leadership positions there are in the public sector. The aim should instead be to pay nurses, teachers and other professional groups well enough for them to become comfortable remaining in their positions instead of being motivated to enter into leadership simply because they are poorly paid.

What is wrong with being teacher and not principal? What is wrong with being police constable and not police commissioner? Is there something wrong with not aspiring to become the head of your organisation? Instead of pitting seniors against their subordinates and promoting the nasty ‘crab in a barrel’ mentality which characterises many workspaces, the government should be trying to incentivise good work at all levels.

Furthermore, the idea that being the head of an entity automatically entitles an employee to the highest rate of compensation within the entity is a bit off centre. While this might be justified in most cases, it is not always the case that the individual who sits atop the greatest number of layers within an organisation either makes the greatest contribution to the organisation or carries the greatest responsibility.

In the case of political representatives, many of whom pursue professional careers outside of their politically assigned mandates, it is also antithetical to the principle of servant leadership for them to think that they must be the highest paid simply because they are national leaders. Perhaps I should ask, is national leadership an opportunity for self-aggrandisement or a commitment to serve?

Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Send feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com