It’s not business as usual at the Bridgetown Port amid reports of rumblings of discontent among Customs officers.
Official sources told Barbados TODAY that there had been a notable slowdown in transactions over the last two days, as the officers appeared to be quietly venting their frustration over hiring practices at the Customs & Excise department.
The workers are reportedly upset that they have been sidelined for promotion to fill vacant posts though they have the requisite qualifications and ample years of service.
According to the sources, the workers believed they were being overlooked because they had expressed reservations about making the transition to the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA). The officers were said to be seeking legal advice on the matter.
Amid the unease, General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Roslyn Smith last night signalled that her organization would not roll over and allow Government to proceed with the controversial decision to subsume the border control officers into BRA.
In an address at the official opening of the union’s 72nd annual general conference, Smith led a scathing attack on the Freundel Stuart administration over the proposed move, describing the decision as “short-sighted” and backward.
“Such a move – treating a border security agency with all the attendant security and related arrangements, as a purely or mainly revenue collecting entity is unprecedented,” she said in a wide-ranging presentation in which she spoke of the evolution of a “society of short-sighted snipers”.
“Such a short-sighted decision could only have been considered by a Government who is under the influence and behest of another more powerful body,” Smith charged.
The union boss challenged the administration to give the public an example of any country where a Customs department falls under a revenue collecting agency.
“And while they are at it they should let the country know whose idea it really is.”
Last year the NUPW and the Unity Workers Union locked horns with Government on this matter, resulting in a crippling strike at the island’s ports of entry.
Custom officers had charged then that Government had made attempts to railroad them into joining BRA by trying to coerce them into signing option forms.
The forms were withdrawn after Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler brokered a settlement among the warring parties. However, Government is moving full steam ahead, with the 2016/2017 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure showing the administration proposing to slash its budget for Customs by over 80 per cent.
At talks with Customs officers last Friday, the NUPW warned that there would be “chaos” and labour unrest if the contentious matters were not dealt with satisfactorily.
Smith told last night’s meeting that while the union was prepared to cooperate on national development exercises it would not shirk from its responsibility of representing the best interest if its members.
“The best reply therefore to this creeping backwardness on the part of some in our community is for the trade union movement to be more alert, be more proactive, be more unified and be more creative,” she advised.