Barbados Community College (BCC) workers could be on the picket line as early as next Tuesday if management fails to meet with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) over possible job cuts by the start of next week.
General Secretary of the NUPW Dennis Clarke issued the threat today minutes after a confrontation with BCC principal Dr Gladstone Best and deputy principal Lindsay Waterman over the union convening a meeting at the college.
The three were involved in a heated argument in which Clarke challenged the BCC management to boot the union officials out of the auditorium of the Howell’s Cross Road, St Michael institution where the meeting was to be held.
“If they feel that strongly, ask me to leave! They would not be the first organization to ask me to leave. They can send the police or they can bring the security guard on the campus because I want to speak about some of those employment practices that they have” Clarke declared.
The NUPW had called the meeting with staff to discuss what it said was the BCC’s plan to send home workers in order to cut costs, without discussion with the union or considering the other alternatives.
The union had been demanding with the BCC but the principal insisted that management was not yet ready and, when it was, a meeting would be convened.
“For the longest while we have been patient with this administration at the BCC and with the deputy principal accusing me of disrespecting them . . . But when we set up all of those meetings that were cancelled by them, that was not disrespectful? . . . We came in here and spoke to you over and over and over and they have been sending home people and saying they have not been retrenching people. It is totally wrong. I wrote to them and said, ‘let us meet and discuss it’ because we received the letter from them stating that they have to lay off 75 workers,” Clarke told the approximately 100 employees at the meeting.
“I told the management a long time ago that if I took the janitorial contract and I cut it in half, and I employed four workers with the half that remained, the cost would not be as much as half of what they were paying out. Those are the areas that I wanted to discuss.”
The veteran trade unionist also accused the BCC management of changing the contracts of employees and including an ouster clause that he said the NUPW needed to discuss.
He charged that many of these contracts could disadvantage workers if not properly analyzed.
Several members of the teaching staff voiced their concerns about the terms of the new contractual arrangement, charging that, unlike similar professionals at tertiary institutions, they were asked to work 18-hour weeks.
One lecturer, who asked not to be identified, argued that while she had to work an 18-hour week and teach classes with as many as 46 students, lecturers at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies only worked eight to nine hours every week.
While acknowledging that in tough economic times some workers would be laid off, Clarke maintained that Government agencies should adhere to the guidelines on how retrenchment should be handled, as outlined in a document prepared by the Ministry of the Civil Service.
While he did not speak to the media today, Best released a statement earlier this week in which he accused the NUPW of spreading false information to force its hands in holding the meetings before it is ready.
He said management had already proposed to meet with the NUPW and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) to discuss how it intends to proceed once it has completed a review of its operations which is currently underway.
“When this analysis is complete and the BCC management is ready it will meet with both the NUPW and the BWU to agree to the implementation of cost reduction measures,” Best insisted, as he categorically denied that the BCC has sacked workers.
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