Employees of the National Housing Corporation (NHC) are back on the job following a brief work stoppage Wednesday morning, which Minister of Housing and Lands Denis Kellman said came as a surprise.
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) had warned last month that workers would walk off the job immediately following the Crop Over weekend if anyone from outside the organization had been appointed to the position of Human Resources Manager.
The union said at the time that the employees felt aggrieved that Assistant Human Resources Officer Polla Blackman, who had acted in the position for a year – without pay, according to the NUPW – was being overlooked in favour of someone believed to be linked to a senior policymaker.
It was around 9:30 a.m. when approximately 30 workers downed tools and assembled in front of the NHC headquarters on Country Road, St Michael to attend a brief meeting addressed by NUPW Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond, who stopped just short of accusing the NHC of practicing nepotism.
“We are surprised that given the fact that the NHC is claiming that pending the merger [of the NHC, the Urban Development Commission and the Rural Development Commission] there is no commitment to filling posts that it was convenient to hold an interview and someone who has connections would have been appointed to the post. We do not want to say that it is nepotism, but based on information, it seems to appear that this whole interviewing process was thought out with the understanding to fill the post. Blackman is adequately qualified; she had been doing the job, therefore we think that it is an abuse of power,” Walrond said.
The new Human Resources Manager reported to work for the first time today, and Kellman, the minister with responsibility for the NHC, told journalists that the correct procedure was followed in hiring the new employee.
Kellman explained that the post was advertised, individuals were interviewed and the most qualified applicant was selected for the position.
“It was not a situation where someone was chosen and the persons within the organization were not given an opportunity. Everybody would have been given the opportunity. If you wanted the job you could have applied and you would have been interviewed,” the minister said.
Thanking Blackman for acting in the position for a year, Kellman said: “I can assure you that the young lady would have been paid for a year in that said position and she was interviewed.”
“I am a bit surprised that the NUPW and anybody would be protesting,” he added, insisting that the new Human Resources Manager was “very qualified” and she “came first in her interview”.
However, the NUPW dismissed the interview as a sham, suggesting it was simply a means via which Government could justify the appointment.
“We believe that this interview was used as a smokescreen to justify the action of appointing a person to the position because no one can say that Blackman was incompetent based on any measurement. We at the NUPW are questioning the rationale for taking such action against the background that everything was being held in abeyance because of a merger,” Walrond protested.
Meanwhile, pointing to the recent recommendation by the Employment Right Tribunal that the National Conservation Commission and other Government entities should improve their human resource management practices, Kellman explained that the appointment of a new Human Resources Manager was the first step towards the restructuring of the NHC to make it more efficient.
“I think the union should be happy to hear that the Employment Rights Act will be adhered to by this person coming to the job, and it will be put in place.
“In other words, I expect her as soon as possible to put the Employment Rights Act in place at NHC. I expect her to be able to increase the productivity of NHC, and I expect her to deal with the unions so that they would not have to turn up at NHC on matters like these; that we will have a HR department that we are able to deal with the unions before it gets . . . to management,” the minister said.