B. Suresh Ram
B. Suresh Ram
Cuepacs, which represents most of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country, has of late been in the news. Apart from opposing the Efficiency Level Assessment (PTK) and the proposed new pension scheme, it is aggressively seeking a salary revision which it says is long overdue. B. SURESH RAM speaks to Omar Osman, who took over the helm of the umbrella body for 114 public sector unions just over four months back.
Cuepacs has lately become more vocal in advocating civil servants' rights. Why?
Omar Osman: It's true that Cuepacs during a certain period in the past was subdued. Despite being slow, we were still aggressive. We based our struggle on a work-smart
partnership with the government and the Public Service Department (PSD).
However, over the years, we saw that through this smart partnership with the government and the PSD, our demands were not given due
attention. It is because of this (that) we have had to relook our position, particularly on the question of salary.
When Cuepacs was not making any noise or was not seen as being vocal, our affiliates began questioning the congress leadership. So we have to voice out. Kita terpaksa. We have to voice out the intentions of the congress and the affiliates which want us to go back to the old days.
The affiliates also complained that Cuepacs was not as spirited as in the past and that we were slow in taking action and that we were under the thumb of the PSD.
Style kita bukan fighting men-lah but that we should fight in a direct and aggressive manner so that the aspirations of the affiliates and Cuepacs' members would be made known.
We do do not want to hear whether Cuepacs ada lagikah ... Cuepacs masih hidup lagikah?
The main issue which Cuepacs is fighting for is the salary hike. Why?
Because the time has come for it. By right, the salary review should have taken place in the year 2000 itself. Various factors contributed to the need for a salary hike, such as the high cost of living, oil prices and even essential goods have gone up in price.
We had discussed all this in our congress and what we found was that civil servants were worried about how to make ends meet, with all these challenges.
We also found that many civil servants were doing part-time jobs to make ends meet. It is because of the increasing cost of living that we have been forced to seek a salary review. If the salary review is not implemented, then I am afraid that civil servants' implementation of improved public delivery system, improved integrity, productivity and even efficiency by 2010 would become worse.
The general view is that unlike the private sector, civil servants do not contribute to the national economy. Thus, there should be no question of a salary increase. Your view?
In the private sector it is more skills-based. Each job taken or done is based on skills. It is because they are based on the level of skills acquired that their salaries are naturally higher.
Entry qualifications in the private sector are also secondary. What is important is the skills and expertise related to the job that they are doing.
However, in the public sector we are merely implementers of the government's policy. The government makes the policy which is then delegated to the public sector employers who then delegate it to the civil servants to be carried out according to the qualifications of the job requirement and the scheme of service which has been agreed to.
Thus, we work based on job designation requirement. It is different from the private sector.
In the private sector, if you are designated as a technician, the job does not merely involve a technician's aspects but also other responsibilities and roles related to it.
In the public sector, the responsibility and the role is based on one's designation and any extra work done does not count towards any future promotion exercise. That is the problem which is further compounded with the new employment scheme and PTK (Penilaian Tahap Kecekapan or Efficiency Level Assessment).
In the private sector, you get regular promotions from time to time. If you are lazy or do not work hard, you remain stagnant in the same position, but it is something which happens very rarely.
In the government, it is the same whether you work hard or not ... the salary is based on your designation.
Furthermore in the private sector, employees work together in a spirit of togetherness. If their hard work sees the company reaping the rewards, they are also rewarded. Private sector workers are able to see the work done and the profits made and the direction the company is heading.
In the public sector, we do not see this. For example, a driver in the public sector ... he reports for work at 8am and ferries his superior around. He does not see the final aim or results of the organisation he works for.
Why is Cuepacs is totally against the new pension scheme?
We are against the scheme for a simple reason - we have yet to see a complete packaged proposal of the new pension scheme.
Instead, it should be similar to our salary review memorandum which contains all the details necessary to back up the proposal.
By right there should have been a detailed package on the new pension scheme but we have not seen the contents. Instead, the new proposal only compares the existing pension scheme and EPF against the proposed one.
In the meeting, we were given the title (tajuk) of the various proposed changes and after discussion, were asked whether we agree with the changes or not. Setuju or tak setuju ... how can!
We want it to be detailed. This will enable us to discuss it thoroughly with our members and then decide upon it. Kita mahu itu macam.
When we ask about a detail, they instead ask us to make the proposal. How can this be? The proposal should come from PSD.
Besides, any decision must be based on a Consultative Council. That is why PSD was directed to hold an official discussion, which we attended recently.
Having being briefed five times and having a meeting once, we are yet to receive the proposed package of the new pension scheme.
It was only briefings ... how can we make a decision based on briefings? Details like how much each worker needs to contribute to the new fund or what guarantee the scheme has for civil servants ... ?
We have about 43,000 civil servants who contribute to the EPF (Employees Provident Fund). If they do not provide details on how this new pension scheme is better than the EPF, how can we convince them to switch to the new pension scheme.
We also wanted a guarantee on the new pension scheme such as who manages it, its board members, but there was no explanation.
If the new pension scheme is the same as the existing one or even slightly better, then we can consider it. But looks like the present scheme looks better than the one proposed.
We have been getting a lot of views, opinions and suggestions to defend the existing scheme.
In a recent interview, you said that if the government decides to go ahead with the new pension scheme, Cuepacs would adhere to it. So why oppose it in the first place?
The government has the power. So have the employers and the PSD; they have the power to implement the scheme. However, Cuepacs as the body that represents the interest of the civil servants has to voice out their views and suggestions.
It is meant for future generations. Because we in Cuepacs do not want the future generation to question the decision we make today. We do not want them to be in a position where they do not get the benefits and pension which we are enjoying today.
In what way is the current pension scheme better than the one proposed?
The benefits are there for everyone to see. This includes free or discounted medical treatment and travel (benefit) after pension and this is in addition to the steady monthly income derived from the pension. There are also gratuity and other benefits which we are enjoying at the moment.
However, from what we heard thus far, the income for pensioners under the new scheme would run out after a certain period. How much would there be left for the pensioner to survive on after deducting the loans and other monies owed?
The question of whether medical and other benefits would be maintained has yet to be known.
The government is considering extending the retirement age of civil servants from the current 56 to possibly 60. Your view?
Yes, we submitted a memorandum on a later retirement age in 1999. We asked for the retirement age to be increased to 58.
The later age would enable civil servants to settle and conclude their family responsibilities.
The government may complain that the cost of healthcare is rising as there are more pensioners. Of course, you tend to fall sick when you think about family responsibilities, such as children's education and housing loan when the pension you are getting is about RM1,000. Things are becoming expensive. Fikiran jadi buntu.
Three months after retiring with all this responsibility yet to be settled, you boleh jadi gila punya.
Where else can they go to earn a living? You want to continue working but you do not have the necessary skills. Your skills are in another field. If the retirement age is 58, it would give them time to settle their affairs instead of thinking how to make ends meet when one child is in the second year of university and another still at PMR level.
Financially, it would prove to be a burden and would it not prevent younger and more energetic civil servants from being promoted?
The feedback that Cuepacs received was that such a move would not restrict the entry and movement of those willing to serve in the public sector. The reason being that as a rapidly developing country it (public sector) would continue to expand. There would be no question of there being a lack of jobs.
Let's say the paperless office becomes a reality in the future and you do not need unskilled workers but the demand for skilled workers such as teachers and doctors and those in the uniformed body would still be there. There would still be a lot of jobs available.
The question of restricting other people's opportunities does not arise. Instead, what we are worried about is that those entering the public sector would lose out being taught and mentored by those who have been in the job longer. They would lose their direction as there is no guidance, because those with the necessary skills retire early. It is already happening now.
Cuepacs has been against the PTK and has asked for its abolition. Why?
In 2003, three months after the PTK was implemented, Cuepacs came out strongly for it to be abolished. This is because the PTK did not achieve the desired aim.
The scheme is not fair. It will also give rise to many problems and disrupt the relationship between the workers and their superiors. It all depends on the judgment of the heads and would lead to unfair and improper evaluation. For example, a head would say that this guy helps me a lot and probably give him a more favoured review compared to, say, a guy who is not so helpful.
It is also not easy for staff who have served for between 10 and 25 years to go and buy books and sit down and study all over again. However, their work and productivity are good.
Those who have just served a few years ... though they are hardworking their work rate and productivity are not up to par. They would usually do well in such examinations. So, in the end, when there is an opportunity, the junior is promoted and the senior is not.
It would also see the civil service's esprit de corp being affected. It is for this reason that Cuepacs suggested that promotions be based on time-based seniority.