The Grenada Tourism Authority is a public body judged from its ownership, jurisdiction, funding, purposes and accountabilities. As a legal entity, it functions as an employer duly able to establish contracts of employment with its staff for the provision of services.
People are hired to enable organisations to achieve their goals.
There can be no argument that the GTA is free to determine the type of contracts of employment it will offer to its recruits.
However, the exercise of this power falls squarely in the field of policy and is therefore reviewable, if not subject to the direction of the Minister responsible for Tourism, under the Act of Parliament setting up the GTA.
Put differently, the Minister ought to have an important say, as a matter of policy, in the type of employment contracts the GTA operates. The presumption here is that the Minister for Tourism has approved the GTA’s contracting policy.
For a variety of reasons, there has been a disturbing rate of turnover of technical and professional staff at the GTA since its commencement in 2014. Without inquiring into the details surrounding that situation, there is enough in the public domain to suggest that a number of recruitment errors were made from day one, including the hiring of its current CEO.
The role-readiness of that high Official has been on the lips of staff, industry people and the general public for quite some time. As a matter of fact, it appears that the ‘Bajan Sun’ who was providing so-called consultancy services to Grenada on the transition from the GBT to the GTA, introduced his friend and political colleague in the Barbados Labour Party, to Grenada. Even some Bajan people wondered whether Grenada was serious about tourism development!
Recently, there have been reports that a further number of employees contracts have not been renewed at the expiry of their fixed-term contracts of employment. Those contracts provided that they were “renewable at the discretion of the Employer”. Therefore, no contracted employee had any legitimate expectation that even his outstanding performance would assure him continued employment.
Furthermore, the Employer was under no obligation to give reasons for non-renewal. Issue is not taken with the decisions to terminate (not renew), as such. What deserves scrutiny, as a matter of public interest, is the nature of the contracts from a policy perspective.
Given the importance of the tourism industry to Grenada, one would expect the leading public sector organisation charged with its development and management to be particularly concerned about effective performance. In this respect, performance is a function of
the accumulation of valid experience and learning by key staff members, that is, the professional quality of the staff. On this premise, the GTA, at policy level, ought to be interested in retaining and incentivising competent staff. One important way of doing that is to provide for an employment relationship whereby the staff has a degree of confidence in their employment future at the GTA.
As against contracts of ‘permanent’ employment, fixed- term contracts may empower the Employer to rid himself of under-performing staff at the lowest cost. However, to offer employees such contracts without binding obligations pertaining to renewal is not conducive to employment comfort or the ability to do business with confidence.
Secondly, the contract type used by the GTA seems not to be mindful of labour market conditions in Grenada where expertise is relatively scarce, but where certification is expanding. This gives rise to the issue of the proper treatment of young Grenadian professionals by a public body. Is this Employer, as an ‘agent’ of the Minister for Tourism (Government), not concerned about the treatment meted out to these persons?
Recognise that a mere declaration by the GTA is enough to put an end to their hope for good and reasonably settled employment with that institution. An employer has always had the right to terminate employment for cause, including re-organisation. Some of these grounds are actually set out in the GTA’s standard fixed-term contract form.
Arguably, one of the benefits of the fixed-term contract is the minimisation of long-term employee costs. The key question therefore is at what costs to the performance of the organisation as a whole.
As things stand now, given the discretionary power to renew or not to renew, any number of unreasonable grounds can be invented to off-load or to retain particular members of staff. This means that because the contract itself closes the door on transparency, arbitrary and unprincipled decision-making can occur without any recourse by those so affected.
Having established these considerations, it would appear that certain questions ought to be put to the Minister for Tourism (Government) regarding the employment policy of the GTA.
The Minister must be asked to say whether the Government is happy to operate a system where young Grenadian professionals have no security of tenure and where the GTA is able to keep or to dismiss workers on various kinds of flimsy grounds.
Relatedly, is the Government oblivious to the value and significance of technical and professional workers establishing careers in their chosen fields of training? Lastly, is Government unconcerned about the psychological pain being inflicted upon these workers as a result of the uncertainty inherent in their fixed- term contracts?
While at it, the Minister may consider it opportune to inform the public on the actual performance of the CEO and the GTA as a whole, as well as the reasons for the high staff turnover that has occurred since the commencement of the GTA.
Just as an aside, it appears that Government has embarked upon the invention of something called a “service provider” for the purposes of contracting the services of some nurses! One says invention, because such an entity has not been known to exist in the Grenadian labour market for health services.
Altogether, unless the practice of giving technical and professional staff fixed-term contracts without transparent provisions for renewal is reversed, public sector management of the tourism industry will be severely weakened and with it the prospects for the sustainable development of the country as a whole. Is this a price worth paying in order to escape having to pay some long-term personnel costs?
An employee must be the victim of his own poor performance, not a pre- scheduled victim of the mere passage of time.
The GTA is not a private company and while it can benefit from good business practices, its obligations to its employees should not be framed to exclude reasonableness and fair treatment.
A re-think of its employment policy under which the merits and de-merits of the fixed-term contract are weighed cries out for attention.