“Downright cruel and unreasonable.”
That’s how general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Dennis Clarke, today described the treatment being meted out to displaced workers at the Government’s revenue collection agencies, who have been left in the lurch with the transition to the Barbados Revenue Authority from tomorrow.
Clarke, who was also very critical of the Government’s handling of its public sector retrenchment programme, which was scheduled to come to an end today, said the BRA transition had been handled badly, and in some cases, bullying was occurring.
“It is our understanding that today officers working in Warrens have been told that they will have to hand in their access cards to the building,” he said.
However, the union leader pointed out that “if they hand in their access cards to the building, no one has told them where they will report for duty tomorrow”.
The NUPW general secretary is therefore requesting that all officers who have been told to submit their access cards meet him at Service Commission tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. He also explained that there were some persons who had indicated that they did not want to go with the authority.
However, he said coming out of a recent meeting with the Minister of Finance and his permanent secretaries, it was agreed that those persons who did not get placements should be given letters of offer.
“There was also the understanding that come the first of the month, those persons who did not indicate that they wanted to go, that they should report [for] duty and be at their station but they will have nothing to do with the Revenue Authority work,” Clarke said.
He contended that the transition was badly handled, while cautioning that “[there] are some things that you can’t bully in, because you have a target date”.
“You have to take your time and work out the whole transition process. And no one is prepared to listen to that, and there is where we are at moment with that.
“It is downright cruel and unreasonable to treat these people in that manner,” Clarke maintained, pointing out that the workers were “the ones who brought the institutions to where they are”.
“If you want to change their terms and conditions and they don’t want the change in terms and conditions or they don’t want the new work boss that you are going to place [them with], then they should have letters. Then, if you can’t place them now, you should have letters saying to them that you are sending them on special leave pending their placement across the public service,” he added.
In terms of the overall public sector retrenchment programme which was scheduled to come to an end today and result in the layoff of some 3,000 public servants, Clarke expressed concern that even at this eleventh hour, the union was still very much in the dark.
“I don’t know if they [Government] have been overwhelmed by the situation, but the disclosures that should have occurred [have not], granted that the Ministry of the Civil Service would have given us numbers . . . but in terms of the names and the seniority and what not from Service Commission, we have not got those.
“It is like it is a process of trial and error, which we don’t mind . . . [but] our main concern is [that you] give people proper notice, so they can start to make the adjustment to their lives, and this is the ingredient that has been missing,” the NUPW official said.
He said the union was “extremely mad and upset that they would have taken advantage of workers in such a manner”.
In a ministerial statement last December, Sinckler had announced that the process would be spread over January to March, 2014, with the first 2,000 job cuts orginally scheduled to take place by January 15, followed by the second tranche no later than March 1, 2014. These deadlines were however pushed back and a new March 31 deadline given by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
However, speaking to reporters this morning, Minister of Labour and Social Security Senator Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo noted that the exercise was still ongoing.
“ . . . In many of the agencies, especially the statutory [bodies], but I couldn’t give you numbers. I don’t know where we are right now, but today is March 31st. So I do imagine that we are very near because as you know the deadline that we would have set to have this process completed was March 31st, but I can’t say anything in terms of numbers right now,” she said.
Her position was blasted by Clarke who described the minister’s comments as astounding.
“I am surprised that [the minister] can’t give numbers. They [Government] seem overwhelmed by the situation, because they are the ones that should be in a position to give numbers. They should know that there wanted to take a hundred people from the Barbados Community College. They should know that they are supposed to take over 200 persons from the National Conservation Commission. They know where these numbers are coming from. The problem is that the unions and the statutory boards have not been coming together to discuss how they are going to do it. That is the smudge on this whole particular exercise.
“I can’t say what can happen [at this eleventh hour] because to date, the NCC has not said anything to us. We have been able to [get] discussion between the BCC, which hopefully should come between Wednesday and Thursday this week.
“Granted we would have had a discussion with BCC, but then there were still waiting on the political directorate to say if to move left, move right, move centre or where. All like now those things should have been put in place so that the workers would not be dropped like hot potatoes. And I suspect that that is what is going to happen in that particular case,” the union boss lamented.