Unfortunate and out of place!
That’s how the Acting Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Wayne Walrond, has responded to statements made Wednesday by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to the effect that the union has no right sticking its nose in national security affairs.
The minister was at the time responding to concerns raised by the workers’ bargaining agent, that the country’s border security could be compromised by the pending transition of Customs workers into the umbrella Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
Sinckler, who was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to primary schools in his St Michael North West constituency, went as far as to tell reporters at the time: “I don’t know why the union is getting itself involved in that,” as he argued that border security was an issue for the national security system.
“It works not only with Customs, it works with police, it works with Coast Guard, it works with the Defence Force, it works with all the disciplined security forces that operate at the front line of the country. Therefore, I am not sure why the union is getting itself all involved in those matters,” contended Sinckler.
However, in response, a combative Walrond sought to warn the minister that national security was not only the union’s business, but everybody’s business.
He pointed out that there were Customs officers assigned at various ports of entry who were aware of the potential threat to Barbados’ borders, especially with gun violence currently a hot topic across the country.
Therefore, Walrond told Barbados TODAY: “It is out of place for Sinckler to say that the NUPW is putting its nose in business that does not concern it.”
The outspoken senior trade unionist did not stop there, he went on to warn the country’s Minister of Finance that the people’s interests must always come first.
“Politicians are put there to serve us. We voted for them and I think that the best form of Government is participatory democracy where you listen to ordinary citizens and factor in their opinion when making decisions,” he said.
Walrond also stressed that the NUPW objected strongly to any statement which suggests that certain aspects of Government were not the business of ordinary citizens, adding that Customs officers who work in the system must have an opinion whether it is taken seriously or not.
In this regard, he reiterated the union’s concerns about the border security arrangements for Port St Charles in St Peter. The NUPW spokesman said it was instructive that plans were being put in place to have a mobile unit, which would replace the physical presence of a Customs officer on a 24-hour basis.
“We at the union are concerned,” Walrond told Barbados TODAY, while warning that “a mobile unit is not a better replacement for the physical presence of a Customs Officer on a 24-hour basis”.
He argued that “even if the traffic is slow and activity is low, 24-hour surveillance would ensure that there is not one instance when illegal material can enter the country”.
Emphasizing that surveillance was about “a 24 hour situation”, he further cautioned that such decisions could not be based on economics alone.
“National security is definitely the business of the NUPW. So we object to the statement made by Sinckler,” he said while pointing out that “we are living in an era where citizens are expressing a lot of concern over the issue of crime, drugs and illegal firearms”.
Amid the worsening war of words between him and the union, Sinckler remains adamant that the proposed absorption of the Customs Department into BRA, which has been the subject of numerous delays, will go ahead by October 1.
However, Walrond is equally adamant that Customs Officers, who have been given until Monday, September 19 to sign their option forms, must not do so.
He is contending that the current agreement is not in the workers’ best interest and that “we are not at the stage where those terms and conditions of work have been comprehensively addressed, where you can say you can transition”.