Barbados is expected to experience a major disruption in public transportation on Monday, with private-run transport systems being pull off the road.
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) which represents drivers and conductors of privately-owned public service vehicles (PSV) has summoned all the operators to a meeting at its Dalkeith Road, St Michael headquarters to further discuss a variety of long-standing grievances and to determine their next course of action.
NUPW Industrial Relations Officer Roger Gibson told Barbados TODAY this afternoon the concerns included the imposition of exorbitant magistrate court fines for wearing slippers in contravention of road traffic regulations, loss of business because PSVs could no longer use Baxters Road and Tudor Street for their inbound or outbound journeys to and from the Lower Green Bus Terminal and the continual issuance of permits on routes which are already saturated with ZRs and mini buses.
The union, which is spearheading the industrial action, is being backed by the two other major representative bodies, the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) and the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO).
“The workers are complaining about harassment by the law. For example a man who is diabetic and had a foot problem and couldn’t wear shoes and the police report he and the court fine he $800 for wearing slippers. It is exorbitant fines like that which is causing concern,” said Gibson.
He said the poor physical conditions inside the terminal constitute another problem. A flat pay has also been proposed that could eliminate the need for the operators to hassle, a practice that often results in breaches of the law.
“We have a number of concerns on the table that we want resolved. They have come to a breaking point and the men are saying ‘enough is enough’. The owners, operators and drivers have come together to make a decision. When you look at it their people [are] trying to drive us out of business. The insurance companies are charging us very high [premiums]. We want them to bring evidence to show that they paid out $30 million in claims and got $21 million outstanding,” stated chairman of the AOPT Roy Raphael.
Raphael said these companies should tell the public how much the PSV owners pay in insurance. “We having situations where one insurance [premium] alone could cost as much as $14,000 for a ZR van third party. And recently the insurance companies would have made a decision that they are no longer insuring any vehicle unless they are owner-driven. We are saying the majority of our members own more than one van, so how can that work?” asked Raphael.
He also drew attention to “high court fees” and the fact that drivers were now afraid to appear before a particular magistrate who they accused of not using his discretion when imposing fines.
“One man had to pay as much as $800 for a pair of slippers and then he made certain statements that . . . ‘if you plead not guilty and you come back before me, I gine double the fine’. So much so now that dey got men afraid to go to this particular magistrate, but are prepared to put down the van and decide to done wid dat,” added the spokesman for the PSV owners.
Raphael also told Barbados TODAY that the owners would soon ask for a rise in bus fares as well as duty-free concessions on buses, considering that several of the vehicles are aging and maintenance costs are high.
He also hoped that Minister of Transport Michael Lashley would resolve these matters when them meet some time this week. They also hope to have discussions with Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite to deal with the fines, and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to address the duty-free concessions and bus fares.
He said the operators and owners would still meet with the NUPW on Monday but the outcome of the talks with Lashley could avert an escalation in action.
When asked if his organization was backing industrial action, interim chairman of the APTO Morris Lee replied, ”we are all in this together.”
Lashley has said he was prepared to meet with the owners but he made it clear he would not seek to influence the court’s decisions.