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'Rest and reflect': What did the test case prove?

As always expected, some did yesterday answer the call to "rest and reflect" issued in the name of militant police officers, as a protest against the current negotiations for a pay rise. Clearly, however, with respect to fears for the maintenance of law and order, the sky did not fall.

The test case in the muscle-flexing for the "national shutdown" threatened by the unions thus delivered at best mixed results. At worst, it confirmed that such a ramping-up of pressure against the government enjoys neither wide support among the public, nor favour among enough of the workers targeted by the agitational incitement of labour leaders.

Police officers have always been a special case of workers in general. Among those legally designated "essential services," police lack a clear-cut option to withhold their labour as a weapon of industrial relations, thereby turning their backs on the people whom they are anyway solemnly sworn to "protect and serve."

The sick-out planned for yesterday was thus arguably illegal and, as a tactic, always cynically illegitimate. As a stratagem, it was distasteful to pretend that officers could concertedly "fall ill" on a given day, utilising their sick-leave allowance, when no warrant for doing so really existed.

Designation of a day of "rest and reflection", followed what Police Association leaders regarded as an unfavourable turn in negotiations with the Chief Personnel Officer. Barred by legislation from sanctioning any strike or work stoppage, association leaders raised a legally circumspect flag of pretence to the end of actually circumventing the law.

"It is a well orchestrated and publicly organised form of industrial action that leaves society exposed," said Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. He denounced the action in advance as a "strike", and said it was "disingenuous and absurd" to expect that sick or casual leave entitlement could legally protect such action.

This was the iron-fisted part of the government's response to yesterday's action. The other part consisted of cajoling appeals through advocacy advertisements that portrayed as childish or churlish the unions' demands for a pay increase higher than the now-infamous five per cent.

It's doubtful that either ridicule or scare tactics proved decisive in assuring majority turn-outs yesterday in all but the northern and the western police divisions. For sure, it is in order to recognise an inbred sense of responsibility and of duty shown by officers who reported for work, even if privately unhappy with the CPO's offer.

By the same token, the officers who responded to the "rest and reflection" dissimulation were evincing dastardly attitudes, which far too commonly, but nonetheless convincingly, attributed to the police. Though called law enforcers, police are too often seen to exploit loopholes in the law as in this case to put up the falling-ill pretexts to further their own ends.

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