Protesting immigration officers have been threatened with the docking of thier pay if they continue their industrial action over the condition of their Careenage House headquarters, which in 2011, was deemed unfit for occupation.
The threat, which came in the form of an internal memo from Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall, has put the department at odds with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which has endorsed immigration officers’ decision to work half day until they are relocated from their condemned headquarters on Wharf Road, The City, possibly in March.
The NUPW had announced two weeks ago, following a walkthrough of the incomplete new headquarters at the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc (BTI) car park on Princess Alice Highway in Bridgetown, that the workers would leave work early every day until the completion of the BTI offices.
NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith this afternoon confirmed to Barbados TODAY that the workers had made good on their threat, but had been written to by Marshall on January 19, reminding them of Section 15 (1) of the Code of Conduct and Ethics (Second Schedule) of the Public Service Act relating to absence from work without permission.
“Officers who are absent from their duty without permission, unless in the opinion of the Permanent Secretary of Head of Department the absence is due to illness or other unavoidable circumstances, are in breach of this code and their pay may be reduced appropriately by the Permanent Secretary or Head of Department to account for such absence,” the memo stated.
Smith said the memo was out of place, while warning that it could lead to more serious action by the officers, who have longed complained about the environmental problems at Careenage House.
As matter of fact, she told Barbados TODAY the union would meet with the officers on Thursday morning to determine the next step.
“The workers decided that they wanted to tour the new building themselves and they determined for themselves that the building cannot be finished by March this year. They have therefore taken a position that they would go to work and if they are impacted by the conditions in the condemned building they would leave and the law supports this action. At the time there were two options on the table: the workers could either stay at work for a few hours and leave as the conditions affected them, or they could sign in and stay outside altogether,” Smith said.
The NUPW has written to Marshall, arguing that Section 104 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act trumped his argument.
The section states: “Where during the course of employment there is sufficient evidence to indicate that an employee’s health and safety are in imminent danger, that employee may refuse to carry out the tasks assigned to him or her pending consultation with their safety committee, trade union, staff association or the Chief Labour Officer.”
The immigration officers have been upset at the repeated delays in Government’s plans to move them, complaining that they were fed up with a combination of broken promises and illnesses as a result of the current environment.
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 had announced that work would instead be completed by August last year.
The workers were later promised that they would move into their new offices in time for the 50th anniversary of independence last November, before a new opening date of March was given as the project continued to be plagued by a series of delays.
Workers had complained that they were falling ill and developing respiratory problems due to the mold and fungus infesting the building.