There appears to be no end in sight to the saga surrounding the pending subsumption of the Customs & Excise Department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), with Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler saying today he was sticking to his position that the two entities would merge, but that the workers’ representative was holding their ground that all of the officers had to be appointed.
The date for the transition, which was first announced some three years ago, has been constantly shifting. The latest deadline of October 1, 2016 for the option forms to be submitted and the process initiated has gone with no signs of progress.
However, Sinckler, who was scheduled to meet with the workers this afternoon, hinted that a firm decision could be coming from Government in a matter of weeks.
“I can tell you that some resolution is going to come to this matter very, very shortly if I have anything to do with it. We will see how it goes in the next few weeks,” Sinckler said while responding to questions during today’s Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry business luncheon at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
He said he would soon issue “a full statement” on the matter, in collaboration with Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, in order to bring to the fore “the Government’s decision because this needs to be put in the public”.
Sinckler said Government had “bent over backwards” to accommodate the customs officers, but it seemed their union was hell-bent on retarding the process.
“Based on what I have seen and heard and experienced, it literally would not come to an end . . . because if somebody is not prepared to do something they will come up with a reason why it shouldn’t be done and why something else ought to be done before they do it,” the minister told the audience.
Sinckler said both customs workers and their union had agreed there was a need for change in the department, and the delay was indicative of how difficult it was to make changes here.
He contended that whenever it appeared the transition was about to happen “some other thing comes up from the union about the transition.
“First there was the issue of appointments, we delayed it since last year and say, ‘let’s do the appointments’ . . . . They said they want to get appointed and we opened up the process and we went through some laborious process and appointments have been made. Now we have reached the stage where all of that is completed and we are getting ready for the transition, but all the issues are not resolved yet,” he complained.
Sinckler said the union’s position was that all the customs officers should be appointed, but that it was aware that “everybody cannot be appointed because legally it is not possible for various reasons, including that some of the officers that they want to get appointed are not qualified” for the posts.
“I think we have to start that process. There are issues that the union may consider to be unresolved. They are not large and so fundamental as to prevent the transitioning from starting and going forward,” Sinckler said.
While Sinckler did not name the union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) had advised officers against signing the option forms while a number of issues remained unresolved.
Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond told Barbados TODAY recently that customs and excise officers were insisting on maintaining that title, rather than adopting the proposed designation of Border Control Officer.
The NUPW had also been seeking to have clerical officers who had functioned as customs officers over the years without compensation appointed to the positions in which they had acted, he said.
“Our priority is not rushing for a signature to meet a deadline. Our priority is to ensure that customs officers get the best representation on these complex issues. The union wants to ensure members are comfortable before they sign the option forms,” Walrond said at the time, stressing that a collective agreement had yet to be worked out and that there were certain conditions customs officers currently enjoyed, including allowances, that had to be guaranteed.