by Roy R. Morris
The terms under which a dispute involving the Bridgetown Port, Barbados Workers Union and a local pre-cast concrete manufacturer was settled last week has apparently left a bitter in the mouths of members of the business community.
Very reliable sources told Barbados TODAY that after the BWU objected to the loading of a barge with 60 foot long pre-cast concrete slabs at the Flour Mill site of the Bridgetown Port Inc., and threatened industrial action the Freundel Stuart Administration got involved.
According to the source, Preconco, located at Lear’s in St. Michael, secured a contract to supply a number of pre-cast concrete components for projects in Trinidad, and arranged with the port to shift the massive pieces onto a barge at the Flour Mill berth for shipment to Trinidad.
Chief Executive Officer of Preconco, Mark Maloney, explained that the arrangement involved the company’s equipment and personnel, but the workers and the union objected.
“I know that the port has been working to find a solution, but I cannot tell you what the solution is, and I do not want to say anything that would upset the process,” Maloney said.
“What I would say is that it would not make economic sense for us to have to pay the additional fees for the workers at the port because right now we can source the product in Trinidad cheaper than we can make it here, but we took a decision to do it here to keep workers employed and to earn foreign exchange.
“And the ironic thing is that when the barge arrives in Trinidad it does not go into the port to be clear, the unions there do not object, and the Trinidadians have not objected to the Barbadians product being brought in, but yet we are making it harder for ourselves to export. That does not make sense.”
Barbados TODAY sources said that after the union objected and the Government got involved, the port’s management was instructed to pay the workers the fees they would have received had the slabs been handled by them.
Contacted this afternoon, General Secretary of the BWU, Sir Roy Trotman, said the union was concerned that “port work was being done improperly outside of the port” and they got involved to ensure it was done “in accordance with long-standing practice”.
Sir Roy accused “some people” of distorting the facts to suit themselves, but stated the matter had been settled to the satisfaction of the BWU.
He maintained that the union hasd a “cordial working relationship” with Preconco Limited, with a collective bargaining agreement in place.
“As I said before,” Maloney said, “I don’t know what decision the port made and I don’t want to be presumptuous. If they are going to absorb costs to ship my goods out that is a matter for them, but I know that we can’t take on additional handling fees and still have a viable contract…
“This arrangement has long-term prospects for exports to Trinidad and if we are going to make the shipping logistics so difficult at our end and blow the whole thing then so be it.”
Maloney stressed that in the current market, not producing the concrete components in Barbados would have major implications for employment at the Lear’s plant.
A number of major players in the business community where the settlement terms have been the source of much discussion over the weekend, described the apparent decision to compel the Barbados Port Inc. to absorb costs that it does not have to incur in the first place, as a dangerous precedent.
They have also been suggesting that consumers will end up paying the cost in any event since the port was certain to pass it on in fees to individuals and companies that do business there.