With the ongoing industrial action costing the Barbados Port Inc (BPI) an undisclosed amount in revenue, and possibly its reputation in the marketplace, the authorities there are considering shutting up shop altogether to prevent damage to expensive equipment.
Chief Executive Officer David Jean-Marie told Barbados TODAY this afternoon a go-slow by unionized workers has been dealing a devastating blow to the port’s bottom line.
However, his greatest fear was the potential damage to all-important equipment due to the way it was being handled.
“Operations across the board would have been affected in terms of the delivery of cargo and the handling and the discharge of vessels. It’s a go-slow so the equipment, everybody is operating very slowly, which is not good . . . . That is a concern to port management generally because we are dealing with very expensive equipment which is prone to damage by the way it is being operated . . . .We’ve contemplated stopping operations because we don’t want to have a dangerous situation in terms of the use of equipment,” Jean Marie revealed.
In addition, the Port must also worry about its future as a transshipment point for the redistribution of cargo, the chief executive officer said.
He told Barbados TODAY talks had already begun in this regard, but the experience today of one vessel could change everything.
“We have a transshipment vessel that has waited around for quite sometime given yesterday’s situation, and the discharge of containers has been very slow from the ship and very frustrating to the principal. So, we think we have the possibility that we could lose that business. We’re going to have to try very hard to convince the principals to continue to use Barbados as transshipment hub,” he said, making reference to yesterday’s sick-out by the mooring crew and the subsequent walk-out by the remaining workers after the Port reportedly called in the Barbados Coast Guard to replace the absent employees.
The BPI boss said despite the financial blow it was suffering, the primary concern was the impact on customers, particularly with events like the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) around the corner.
“We have the natural gas that is important to the country, we have furniture being imported and so on, we have equipment being imported and for various projects which are ongoing, and this delay in processing obviously will delay those processes and cost those processes significantly. So we would wish to see the situation return to normal in everyone’s interest,” he said.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) have ordered their members on a sick-out and work-to-rule in an attempt to force the Freundel Stuart administration to reduce by 50 per cent, the taxing National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which was increased from two to ten per cent on July 1, or provide some form of subsidy to help workers cope with the austerity measures announced in the recent budget.
With schools on holiday, the BSTU and the BUT can give little more than moral support.
However, it is action by members of the NUPW, and, as was the case at the port, the BWU, which is likely to strike hardest at Government operations.
This was obvious today as less than 15 per cent of Transport Board buses were on the road, leaving hundreds of commuters stranded.
The north of the island was particularly hard hit, with no buses leaving the Speightstown deport at the scheduled 4:30 a.m. start, according to General Manager Sandra Forde.
However, the privately run public services vehicles (PSV) rode in to fill the void, with one operator telling Barbados TODAY he was thankful for the additional business.
“I don’t think the sick-out really affect anyone because when they can’t get the Transport Board bus they still have us here,” he said.
The Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) has also seen the opportunity for additional business, as its president, Morris Lee, confirmed to Barbados TODAY that a meeting was held today with the Transport Board to discuss how the PSVs can ease the pressure caused by the industrial action.
While he did not give details of the talks, Lee said the PSV operators “want to play our part in working to ensure that the commuters are safely commuted”.
Today’s sick-out also impacted the Princess Alice and Fairchild Street terminals. At Fairchild Street one commuter said that an hour and 15 minutes after her 8 a.m. arrival for the 8:30 a.m. bus to Workmans, she had no idea if she would make it to work.
“I heard on the news that the buses were not working and were on strike, but I still came. I still hoping to get something, but when I see a certain time I just would have to go back home,” she said.
Meantime, Maria Murray who was headed to Martin’s Bay said she expected a lengthy wait. Yet, despite the inconvenience, she threw her support behind the unions. “When we do things like this it is for a good, but sometimes bad does come outta it, you understand? You doing it for a good one way, yet still the country hold up de next way. You in between the crossroads,” she said.
At Grantley Adams International Airport, the queues leading up to Customs began lengthening from about 1p.m., as border control officers took their cool time processing arriving passengers, according to one airport official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
Everyone was being searched, and by mid afternoon the line was snaking all the way back to the main area.
“It’s rough up here,” the official told Barbados TODAY.