Workers at the National Conservation Commission (NCC) are becoming increasingly agitated over reports that the statutory corporation had hired 170 new employees in recent weeks, three years after 200 workers were severed.
Last July the Employment Rights Tribunal headed by Hal Gollop, QC, ruled that the 200 workers were unfairly dismissed when they were sent home in April 2014 as part of Government’s cost-cutting measures, and ordered compensation equivalent to 52 weeks’ wages. In addition, Government had agreed that the retrenched workers would be given first preference for any future vacancies within the state agency.
However, multiple sources said not only were the retrenched workers ignored in this latest recruitment effort, but eyebrows were further raised upon discovering that many of the new employees hailed from the constituency of Minister of the Environment and Drainage Dr Denis Lowe.
“This cannot be right. We have persons that were sent home and still not working, persons who lose their house and catching their tail, but you could now turn around and hire new people,” one frustrated employee said.
“We also went to management asking for new tools and they tell us they don’t have money to buy them. Right now we don’t have enough rakes and leaf blowers for the staff compliment but they could find money to pay 170 new workers plus tools for them to work.”
President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY the issue had been raised with the union, which was investigating the claim.
He said if the allegation were confirmed it would certainly strengthen the union’s resolve to push for a salary increase for public workers.
The NUPW has demanded a 23 per cent pay rise for Government workers, although McDowall recently said the union was prepared to compromise
“These are very troubling allegations which the union would have to investigate. If it is true, the first point has to be that the Government has to learn to prioritize. We would have been asking for a salary increase and for the Government to bring on 170 workers without first making sure that public servants get an increase is irresponsible. The union is not against people being brought on, but we see the salary increase for public servants as a top priority,” McDowall said.
In addition, the recently reelected union boss contended, that “when the workers were retrenched there was an agreement with the Government that those workers would first be considered if any job opportunities would later arise within the NCC. We don’t know if this is the case but we are still doing our investigations and if is not the case, we are certainly going to have an issue with that,” he cautioned.
However, Lowe has strongly denied having any information about appointments at the NCC, telling Barbados TODAY he was neither familiar with, nor did he control the agency’s day-to-day operations, and was therefore unable to confirm or deny the claim.
“Why would you think that you could call me and find out from me if I know whether or not 170 persons were hired at the NCC? You need to look at what is, and what is not, policy, and the minister would not have knowledge relative to the day-to-day operations of the National Conservation Commission. Why would I have that information?”
The minister was also adamant that he would not comment further on the issue unless Barbados TODAY revealed its sources.
“If you can’t reveal the name of your source I can’t speak to you. I don’t chase ghosts,” Lowe stressed.
Repeated attempts to reach NCC General Manager Keith Neblett proved futile, and messages left with his office were not returned up to the time of publication.
Just last month, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith had told the union’s 73rd annual conference that the clock had also been turned back on Government’s public sector job cuts, while warning that Barbadians were being made “perpetual pawns, scapegoats and playthings” of the country’s political leaders.
Smith said at the time that Government had severed over 3,000 workers “in the lower rungs of the public sector only”, but had since “gradually and discretely” rehired over 2,500 to date.