Don’t sign on!
This was the advice today from the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to its members, despite a stern warning from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart at the weekend that the transitioning of the Customs & Excise Department (CED) into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) would go ahead as scheduled on July 1.
The NUPW’s Acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith and President Akanni McDowall met with their members for just over two-hours today at the union’s Dalkeith, St Michael headquarters, amid reports that option forms were being circulated by BRA.
However, Smith reported that unionized employees of the CED still did not have any interest in joining BRA and were adamant that they would not be doing so until their concerns were met by Government.
In response to that position, the NUPW officials gave an assurance to the workers that their concerns would be raised at the level of the union’s National Council, which was scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. today to determine what action should be taken going forward.
Up to tonight there was no word on the outcome of that meeting.
However, speaking to reporters following this morning’s talks with the workers that began at 10:30 a.m. and ended just before
1 p.m., Smith said: “We had fruitful and robust discussions coming from Customs officers and Customs guards.
“The issue of the absence of documentation arose at today’s meeting. We were still looking at matters dealing with appointments and supersession.
“The workers were quite clear that they will not be moving forward until their concerns are met. They are adamant, and obviously the union would have to take their concerns to the National Council for direction going forward,” she said.
Addressing the issue of the signing of option forms, Smith told reporters that the union had advised workers against signing option forms since they were still in the process of negotiations with Government.
McDowall said he was impressed by the turnout of workers, saying it was evidence that the Customs employees were serious about addressing their concerns.
“For those who thought that the Customs employees would just capitulate and take whatever the Government had to dish out, they better be concerned as of today because this turnout has shown us that they are in solidarity with other workers.
“These workers are willing to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that they get what they want. Workers are still concerned about the process being employed and they have given us a clear mandate,” he said.
“They have said to us that they are not interested in going to the BRA. That is the mandate they have given us,” McDowall explained.
Echoing some of the sentiments expressed by Smith, McDowall said it was now left to them to bring the workers’ concerns to the attention of the National Council for direction going forward.
Meanwhile, General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union, Caswell Franklyn, is contending that absorption of the officers into BRA “serves no useful purpose other than to destroy the public service and the career paths of Customs workers”.
“This has been my union’s position from the beginning. It [the amalgamation] does not make sense. This has been the position of the Customs workers. Unfortunately it has not been the position of the other unions. The other unions were negotiating the transfer into BRA. They were not taking instructions from their members; they were taking instructions from the Government,” Franklyn charged.
During a tour of the BMEX exhibition on Saturday, the Prime Minister had acknowledged that people would necessarily have questions about the BRA move, while pointing out that it was the responsibility of the Government and the BRA officials to answer those questions.
“But when all is said and done, there is going to be a Barbados Revenue Authority and the Customs Department is going to be a part of it, the revenue collection in the country is going to improve, but these are little mountains we have to climb on the way there,” said Stuart.
However, the NUPW has since taken issue with the Prime Minister’s statements in which he also categorized the union’s attempts to agitate on behalf of their members as “noises”. McDowall has called on the island’s leader to apologize.