Government’s plans to transition the Customs & Excise Department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) is about to hit yet another major hurdle.
The much delayed process, which has been plagued by industrial action and disputes between Customs officers and the new authority, appeared on the way to completion when Acting Head of the Civil Service Sonja Welch announced last week that the transition would be completed on October 1.
The senior civil servant acknowledged that a number of previous deadlines had not been achieved, but told officers there had been good progress in meetings with the trade unions, including talks last week with both the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Barbados Workers’ Union “to clarify any matters” they needed addressed.
However, the NUPW today cast doubt on the transition by advising Customs officers not to sign the option forms, which had been at the centre of some of the fiercest rows between the union and the revenue collection agency.
In fact, the union has scheduled a meeting with the officers for Thursday at 10 a.m. at its headquarters on Dalkeith Road, St Michael to address “all outstanding matters” related to the subsumption.
told Barbados TODAY Thursday’s meeting would seek to provide an update on all matters related to the terms and conditions of employment before Customs officers could be fully engaged in the transition process.
The senior trade unionist stressed that one of the issues the union had asked the authorities to address was the appointments of Customs officers.
He said while vacancies at the level of Customs Officer 1 had been filled, several remained at the Customs Officer 2 and 3 levels.
In addition, Walrond said, there were unresolved matters relating to structure and duties.
“An organizational structure under BRA is yet to be provided; job descriptions that reflect Customs and Excise functions; qualifications consistent with the duties of Customs officers; maintaining the job title of Customs Officer and generally ensuring that all matters relating to terms and conditions of service are completed,” Walrond said of the issues to be discussed with the workers.
He recalled that it was not the first time option forms had been issued to staff members, emphasizing that it would not be wise for the officers to sign the forms while some matters remained unresolved.
When Custom officers went on strike in July 2105 it was over the authorities’ insistence that they sign the forms.
Both the NUPW and the Unity Workers Union complained at the time that Government was attempting to “railroad” the workers into transitioning to BRA by trying to “intimidate” them.
“As you are aware, the NUPW is still in the process of negotiating terms and conditions for the staff of the Customs and Excise Department in relation to the transition to the BRA. It is our understanding that from Monday, management was insisting that staff members sign option forms. We see it as an intimidatory practice, especially in relation to temporary officers, who are seen as vulnerable employees with no security of tenure,” Walrond told Barbados TODAY at the time.
Some of the contentious matters remain unresolved and the union official said today, while the aim was not to delay the process, this week’s meeting would seek to bring “closure”.
“So Thursday, we will make a determination on those matters and we will seek to ensure that closure is brought to all matters that have been raised on behalf of officers of the Customs and Excise Department. We are not delaying the process, but all we ask is that all the matters the union has raised will be addressed so that the officers will be comfortable knowing that they have clear contractual arrangements,” Walrond said.
However, he stressed that even though the union would identify the areas that needed to be addressed before giving its blessing to the transition, it would be left to the individual officers to decide.
At last week’s meetings with the officers, Chief Personnel Officer Gail Atkins explained that the option letters would set out details pertaining to the transition and would include a “lot of the key issues” that would assist the officers in making their decision.
Revenue Commissioner Margaret Sivers also emphasized that the letters should be returned to BRA no later than September 19.
Sivers also said while the revenue collection agency had a framework and a proposed organization structure, the final organization structure would only be determined after the appointment of a senior management team.