Immigration officers stationed at the headquarters on Wharf Road, The City are making good on their threat to take industrial action to press for a move from the condemned facility.
The officers today decided to begin working half day for the next six weeks, beginning next week, to force the Freundel Stuart administration to expedite their relocation to the repurposed Barbados Tourism Investment Inc (BTI) car park on Princess Alice Highway in Bridgetown.
Upset at the repeated delays in Government’s plans to move them, the immigration officers last Friday threatened to take action to prove that they were fed up with the environment.
Following the announcement Government had appealed to the officers to hold strain until March.
However, General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Roslyn Smith told Barbados TODAY this afternoon that a combination of broken promises, the number of workers who have fallen ill as a result of the current environment, and a lack of progress on the new office had become too much for the officers to bear.
“We had a meeting on Wednesday and the staff also went to the new building this morning at 8:30 and did a walkthrough so that they can see the progress for themselves. It was after that walkthrough that they decided from next week that they would go into work and they are going leave at half day. They have also decided that they are going to do that until the building is finished, which is supposed to be on the 5th of March,” Smith said.
Work began on the new headquarters in 2016, and Government had given its assurance to officers that they would be out of the woeful conditions at Careenage House by June of last year.
Less than a month before the scheduled completion Minister with responsibility for Immigration Senator Darcy Boyce announced that work would be completed by August instead. At the time, he gave no reasons for the delay.
Nonetheless, Boyce had made it clear the new timeline was not an indication that Government was neglecting the officers’ longstanding concerns.
Therefore, the new opening date of March is the latest in a series of delays dating back to 2011, when Careenage House was deemed unfit for occupation. Workers had complained that they were falling ill and developing respiratory problems due to the mold and fungus infesting the building.
They also registered deep frustration when the Freundel Stuart administration failed to keep its promise of completing the new offices in time for the 50th anniversary celebrations last year.
In this context, Smith warned that the workers were willing to give Government until the end of March to fully complete the new structure, otherwise they would intensify industrial action.
“If by that time it is not complete we are going have to up our action a lot more. Given the fact that the architect would have to sign off on the building and the test runs, I believe that the end of March would be a final deadline,” the NUPW general secretary said.
It was only last Friday following a walkthrough of the BTI facitity that Smith had told Barbados TODAY that based on what she witnessed that afternoon, she was skeptical that the scheduled work could be completed by March.
“I am not at all happy with the progress because I thought they would have been a lot closer to completion. There are so many things that need to be finished, there is no part of the project that is 100 per cent completed. I don’t see how they are going to finish all that work in six weeks,” she said then, while pointing out that the relocation was supposed to occur last June, “then it move to July, then August and all kinds of dates we are getting.
“Based on what I saw there, it looks like they are going down to this June and that can’t be right,” Smith said at the time, while stating that construction work would have to take place around the clock in order for workers to be convinced that their plight was being taken seriously.
“They need a 24-hour work programme in place because if they were really trying to move towards a more feasible handover they could have been doing things like the tiling, and the electrical wiring could be done at the same time. They could have persons working night and day to get the work done. I am really not happy. This could not be right because while they are dragging their feet, workers are suffering,” she added.
The NUPW subsequently revealed that 35 officers stationed at Careenage House had reported various illnesses as a result of the environmental conditions and intended to sue Government for their pain and suffering.