An angry, emotional and upset Sir Charles “COW” Williams has fired back at the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), threatening to shut down his Apes Hill golf course and luxury villas facility and send home all the workers.
A nasty row has developed between Apes Hill and the BWU over the company’s refusal to recognize the union as the workers’ representative and a lengthy delay in the resumption of talks over pay and conditions of employment.
The union issued a highly charged statement yesterday, accusing the Apes Hill management of industrial terrorism and of subjecting the staff to mental and economic slavery.
Sir Charles today unleashed his fury on the union and the employees in an equally fiery interview with Barbados TODAY during which he made reference to workers rising from slavery and described some workers as ingrates and laggards. He also said that he was hurt by the entire episode.
“Leh me tell you something. I ready to shut it down and send home all 400 people that working up there. Ready. It is a pain on me. It is a pain,” an emotional Sir Charles said, breaking his silence on the industrial dispute.
The construction and real estate mogul also rubbished the union’s claims of racism and classism, pointing to the broad section of people who participate in events at the upscale facility.
“The union is wrong. Our organization at Apes Hill is definitely not racist. Leh me tell you something. Go up there any time we
have a tournament and see the proportion
of different races up there . . . Chinese,
Indian, Blacks, Whites, all. We don’t have a ban on anybody.”
The prominent business executive however defended the company’s approach to dealing with employees who he suggested avoided work and spent their time idly. He told Barbados TODAY he was not about to allow them to jeopardize the high net worth clients who invested in multi-million dollar villas at Apes Hill.
“What I am not going to do is let people come and sit down and loaf around the place where . . . people that pay six and eight million to build a house and see loafers sitting down around the place,” the 83-year-old Sir Charles said. The prominent businessman, who said he had invested his personal finances in the sprawling Apes Hill project to save it from collapsing, was furious at what he suggested was little gratitude shown by some of the workers.
“We have given them the opportunity to go through apprenticeship, to improve their position in life,” he insisted.
Against the backdrop of a three-day strike by more than 40 placard-bearing maintenance workers who protested the delay in the resumption of talks, Sir Charles stated that the company met with the workers under a month ago to bring them up to date on the developments, “to bring them in line with the jobs they did”.
And he argued that the industrial action was unnecessary because the management asked the employees for time to put the promised salary increases in writing for the various categories of workers.
“There are six to ten different categories [and we told them] it would take a little time and we would let them know [the availability of the documented increases] accordingly. And you know what they did? [They] sat down on the site and objected to the people that were playing [golf] that pay, to pay them. So we asked them to leave the site. That’s all,” contended Sir Charles, executive chairman of CO Williams Construction.
Amid periodic outbursts of anger, he spoke of the approximately 130 permanent and the “many more” temporary jobs that the business had created, and complained that “detractors” were trying to kill the project. The construction executive also expressed regret he had developed the facility.
“Today is six years Apes Hill open. I should never have done it. I should have left it in a dairy farm employing eight people . . . that’s what I should have done. I would not have this worry this morning,” he lamented.
Sir Charles said the workers had done so well that the company built an additional car park for those who had gone to work there.
“We have promoted people from labourers to supervisors in our business. You work, you prove yourself and you get promoted. Leh me tell you something, when they came to work, they barely had clothes . . .,” emphasized the real estate mogul.
Sir Charles “COW” Williams