Today’s crippling six-hour strike by drivers employed by the state-run Transport Board took many by surprise.
Among the hundreds of commuters left stranded were scores of school children, included several who were down to write CXC and CAPE examinations this morning.
However, instead of putting off the exams, the Ministry of Education announced that students would be allowed to write the exams at the nearest exam centre closest to them.
Though cognizant of the impact the strike was having on the school system, the President of the Transport Division Neville Kirton pointed out that the workers were eager to walk off the job since yesterday.
However, he said they had decided to give way to primary school students sitting their Common Entrance examinations.
At issue was a recent decision of the Board to hire a clerical officer for three months on contract.
The employment of the officer, who is alleged to be a relative of a top official at the Board, was deemed to be a slap in the face of former employees who were recently sent home and whose retrenchment is still the subject of discussions between the Board and the workers’ bargaining agent at the level of the Labour Department.
The angry workers had also leveled claims that that the Board had gone ahead and outsourced chartered services, in breach of an earlier agreement to give preference to recently laid off Transport Board employees to operate these services.
Also participating in today’s work stoppage, were mechanics and other workers employed by UCAL, who are demanding that the Transport Board meets outstanding commitments made to them.
The protest action, which lasted from 5 a.m. to just after 11 a.m. today, was fully endorsed by the Barbados Workers Union, bargaining agent for the workers.
Members of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, namely BLP Leader Mia Mottley, Shadow Minister of Transport Trevor Prescod and St Michael South East MP Santia Bradshaw, who is Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly, came out in a show of solidarity with the workers.
From early this morning, there was not the usual hustle and bustle within the precincts of the main terminal building at Fairchild Street, which resembled a ghost town. The same was also true for the Princess Alice Terminal, close to the Cheapside Market in the City, and the Speightstown Terminal, in the north of the island, where stranded passengers were forced to make alternative travel arrangements in order to get to their destinations on time. The majority of the blue and yellow omni-buses remained stationary for half of the day, except in one instance where a driver was allowed to respond to a mass casualty situation at Maxwell, Christ Church. Earlier in the day, dialysis patients were also transported to the state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment.
The crippling strike by drivers took officials completely off guard.
General Manager Sandra Forde, who arrived at the Board’s Weymouth headquarters just after 9:15 this morning, revealed, in a brief statement to reporters, that official correspondence had been dispatched to the President of the Transport Board Division, Neville Kirton, inviting him to a meeting to discuss outstanding grievances.
Those talks were scheduled for 11 a.m. today, she said. Therefore, the General Manager expressed surprise over today’s strike action by the group of Transport Board employees.