Complaining that they have lost faith in the collective bargaining process after seven years of letter exchanges between Government and the Barbados Workers Union, Customs guards warned today they would be taking industrial action next week.
At issue is a lack of adequate information needed to determine whether they want to become employees of the newly-established Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) from July 1.
Choosing to keep the date for the planned industrial action close to their chest, a representative group of guards from the Customs & Excise Department told Barbados TODAY this afternoon they had already discussed among themselves, taking action to highlight their plight and hopefully force Government into providing them with clear written guaranteed terms and conditions of employment or the option of a voluntary severance package.
Should the guards take action next week as planned, the impact could be severe given the scheduled arrival of cruise ships at the Bridgetown Port on Wednesday.
The Customs guards said that even when they had meetings with Government officials, the most that had resulted from those talks was the authorities telling them what they intended to do, instead of addressing their main concerns related to the appointment of temporary workers, some of whom had as many as 12 years’ service. Their other concerns relate to security of tenure and possible loss of benefits.
Stating that the transition to the BRA would be a life-changing move, the group lamented that none of the 28 temporary officers could approach any financial institution for a loan or retail store for hire purchase because their employment was not permanent.
And, to add insult to injury, they complained that those who chose to accept employment with the BRA were doing so on contract.
“This means the customs guard or clerical officer has no guarantee that contract will be renewed once it expires. We don’t even know if we will enjoy the same maximum salary benefits if we go over to the BRA. We don’t have any clear information on what to expect. If we go over to the Revenue Authority, it is like going ‘round a blind corner,” one of the guards, who preferred anonymity, declared.
“We have customs guards and clerical officers going over under the new title “border security officer/cadet”. These are temporary clerical officers waiting on appointments. These persons would be at the mercy of BRA. These are people with children to send through university, have mortgages . . . can’t go to any institution or store with a pay slip that says, ‘temporary’.”
The customs officers told Barbados TODAY the authority to pay them has to come from the Personnel Administration Division and this pay often takes a while.
They also noted that the recent issue where a police officer arrested one of them at the airport “for doing our job” was still to be addressed. They claimed a police officer also pulled a gun on a senior Customs staffer at the Bridgetown Port.
“Some persons who now get full maximum salary, on transition to BRA, have to start from beginner’s salary. Two cashiers who went over lost their benefits, their allowances. These are issues which are unresolved and we are going to another job with unresolved issues and not knowing what we are likely to face,” added another of the guards interviewed by this newspaper.
The Customs employees complained, too, of not having a job description.
While accepting that any merger would result in retrenchments, the guards were more upset over the way in which the Government was going about this one between BRA and the Customs & Excise Department without proper consultation with those directly affected.
In the latest correspondence from the Barbados Workers Union, which was addressed to the president of the Customs Guards Division Nicholas Mason and dated April 2, 2015, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore outlined the main issues raised with the Head of the Civil Service, the Commissioner of BRA, Permanent Secretaries in the Ministries of Finance and the Civil Service and representatives of the Personnel Administration Division [PAD].
Some of those matters related to the current complement of customs guards and senior customs guards, including the official number of temporary guards, the number of guards who will not be transferred to the BRA because of their age and the number of temporary guards whose appointments are under consideration.
The letter – a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY – also noted that the union had raised issues for which the Head of the Civil Service had promised to provide answers. These include evidence that the Personnel Administration Division had not followed the Customs Act in filling vacancies in the time required by the law. This information was to be supplied by April 10, 2015, but according to the guards, that had not happened to date.
The PAD was also expected to have an answer by April 17, 2015 [not yet provided, according to the guards] regarding the duties for Customs guards, particularly in relation to the security functions required of them.