On Monday, 24 July 2018, amendments to the various pension Acts were debated in the Senate. These changes to the Pensions Act CAP. 233, the Pensions (Prison Officers) Act CAP. 235, the Pensions (School Teachers) Act CAP. 236 and the Police Pensions Act CAP. 245 moved the cut-off date for qualification for pension from 4 April 1983 to 22 February 1985.
The effect of this amendment will be that rather than 4 April 1983, persons joining the service on or before 22 February 1985, will automatically qualify for and receive pension on retirement.
This is the first and indeed a very tiny step towards solving a complex 35-year-old problem. It ensures that in addition to the people who already qualify for pension, another 57 or so persons who joined the service between 4 April 1983 and 22 February 1985 will now automatically qualify. The amendment still leaves hundreds of public workers who joined the service after 22 February 1985 out in the cold, not eligible to receive a pension on retirement. This problem needs to be urgently fixed once and for all. It is fitting that this government tackles and fixes the problem because they have held the reins of power longer than any other political party since 1983 and therefore have had the best opportunity to do so.
Once the problem persists, the country will have to, and is in fact already dealing with a new category of poor people. Those who worked and enjoyed a fairly decent quality of life, but are then forced to retire into poverty. To avoid poverty, many will be forced to find work wherever they can, well into their old age. Some families will be even more negatively impacted because at the retirement age of 60, many workers still have children attending school and must provide for them. The strain that this new category of poor can put on the economy over time has not been fully assessed. More importantly, the NDC says that workers of this country deserve much better. After giving their best years in service to their country, the least we can do is to ensure that workers retire in dignity and relative comfort. Full restoration of pension will provide for that. The NDC will therefore support any efforts of the government to make full restoration of public workers’ pension a reality.
We now look forward to the efficient implementation of this new law so that our retired and retiring teachers, police officers and public officers to whom the amendment applies, will have a secured source of income during their years of retirement.
Pensions are a sacred income and pensioners are not just our senior citizens, but more accurately, our national treasurers. The state, therefore, has a moral obligation to ensure that they are provided for through a sustainable pension scheme.
The NDC is well aware that outside the NIS, there isn’t a pool or a pension fund from which resources can be drawn to make payments once full pension is restored. We understand too that in this regard, very careful work will have to be done and the role of the NIS will be integral to this work. To this end, we impress upon the government the need to conduct and publish an actuarial study of our resources. This will feed the public with statistical data to support and substantiate whatever government says, as a people we must do to ensure that pension once restored, will be sustainable.
From the last available actuarial report on the state of the NIS, we know that the stability and sustainability of the scheme are in serious jeopardy. The actuaries have projected that if we continue to operate as we do now, our NIS resources will be exhausted by 2038.
We will address the situation with the NIS in more detail in our next publication.
Of deep concern to the NDC, are the public pronouncements by Senator André Lewis, the labour representative in the Senate and also by the representatives of the unions at a recently held press conference. All of the statements of those persons suggest that negotiations with government on resolution of the pension issue either have broken down or are on the brink of breaking down.
Literally on the eve of the last elections, government and the unions signed a memorandum of understanding, which at the time both sides said they were happy with. Now, the unions are giving every indication that they feel the government is about to renege on that arrangement. The terms of the MOU have not been made public, and the details of which part of it the government now seems ready to abandon have not been given. It was indeed risky business to enter the arrangement so close to the election when government was under pressure to look good in the eyes of voters. Further, with its track record of acrimony with the unions, it would have been prudent to ensure that a binding arrangement rather than a mere MOU was signed. We believe that those negotiating on behalf of the unions did what they felt was in the best interest of the workers and they thought the government also had the workers’ best interest at heart.
We, therefore, encourage all the workers affected to stand with your union leaders and fight any attempt by the government to deprive you of the benefit of what your leaders negotiated with government in good faith on the eve on the election. The trade union movement and workers, in general, ought to become the vanguard ensuring that pension benefits for all be restored and that pension resources are sustainable.
Government by itself cannot be trusted to arrive at the best possible solution. We all know that the current leadership of this country is more concerned about self-legacy than about people; therefore expediency will take precedence over proper research and evaluation.
Workers, and particularly you retired ones, it is in your interest to be engaged in the pension debate.