|Tuesday, 17 September 2002|
Overtime: part of normal office package?
by Lloyd Fernando (Former Secretary to Governor, N.W.P.)
Duty is to carry on promptly and faithfully the affairs now before you - it is to fulfil the claims of today. - Goethe
It is generally said that one should be thankful for small mercies.
It would not take long for those in the rank and file of the Public Service to realise the veracity of this adage, for, sooner than later when you are settling down in your job in the public sector, 'pennies start to fall from heaven' as you find yourself working late into the evening or beginning the day's drudgery earlier than usual.
However, as the terminology indicates, 'overtime' is a period of time required occasionally when there is some urgent work to be attended to for speedy disposal vis-a-vis clearance of a backlog of work arising from an undue shortage of staff.
Nevertheless, considering the long hours spent in office canteens by office-workers sipping those innumerable cups of tea over unending bouts of personal narrations or anecdotes, and unadulterated gossip; or reading newspapers, exchanging pleasantries, or hanging on to the office telephones, the need for 'overtime' at anytime looks highly unjustifiable.
The irony of it is that even in offices where there is hardly justifiable work in respect of the numbers at work, there seem to be enough work after office hours to involve the employees on 'overtime' right through. Necessary evil
Overtime has become the part and parcel of the normal office package of the rank and file in the public service. The closer you are to the lesser powers that be, the more overtime that would come your way. It depends on who calls the tune. Perhaps, a random check at the shopping malls or the city pubs would provide startling revelations of the overtimers' overtime after office hours - in a world of their own for better, for worse! Under the circumstances, someone interpreted 'overtime' as a necessary evil.
Over the years, overtime has been woven into the fabric of the public service, and whether there is work or not, overtime goes on unabated; and claims for payment made out accordingly. "Throughout"
There was this revealing account of a worker at The Mineral Sanda Corporation at Pulmoddai in Trincomalee. This startling revelation was made by none other than the task master of a General Manager, in the mid-seventies when we - from the Department of labour, comprised the resource personnel of a Workers' education Workshop at the Corporation.
The very alert, yet genial General Manager told us that while he was on a familiarisation tour of the premises, when he first joined the Corporation, he happened to pick up the attendance register and browsed through its pages; he was quick to observe a name against which carried the word "throughout" right through the week and into the month. He immediately sent for the worker and asked him to explain. Very nonchalantly, the worker had responded:
"Why, sir, I work right through the day and night - on overtime!" in absolute horror, the 'GM' throwing the attendance register at him, had cried 'halt' to his 'overtime' with immediate effect; and so throughout his tenure of office, there were no more "throughouts" and in addition 'overtime' began to be monitored thereafter.
Overtime is often a creation of the employees themselves. One night even call it pre-meditated just for a little more "buckshee" (Local slang for extra money).
Among the veterans of the rank and file, overtime is an integral part of the monthly emoluments. They could even be demanding at times, or may be they would go elsewhere to new pastures where they would find 'overtime' to their entire satisfaction!
In the stereotype institutions, very little work appears to be done during normal office hours which are generally spent so freely, if not leisurely; so, obviously, there is always 'overtime' just for the asking! Past 'buck'
It is surely not my intention at this stage to elaborate on the dubious ways of making a fast 'buck' from certain key sectors of the Public Service. It is happening every day, right through the year and in many instances, so publicly and openly that one wonders who is conniving with whom.
The late Minister Lalith Ahtulathmudali who had studied in depth the whole issue of 'bribery and corruption' in the public service, once remarked that these human weaknesses "can only be minimised but cannot be eliminated totally; so let's carry on with development and endure what we cannot cure"! Inspiration and assurance
The Public Service shoudl be a medium through which men of goodwill can serve their followmen. The Public Service has grown and development. It is this that should give the public servants the inspiration and assurance for further development in the various areas that are virtually their homes. From my experience over many years, I am convinced that opportunities for us to be of service to our community are unlimited - and with the rapidly growing strength of the Public Service in Sri Lanka, we could look forward to a period of even greater achievement as we move forward in a brand new Century of a challenging Millennium!
The block of granite
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