At least one critical area of this country’s border security could be left unmanned by the turn of 2019, if the Mia Mottley-led Administration does not restore a seriously depleted support staff as a matter of urgency.
The warning is coming from some frustrated Customs Officers as well as the Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) Wayne Walrond.
One customs officer, who did not want to be identified fearing possible victimization, strongly suggested that many of her colleagues may not be mentally or physically fit to work come January, if the present workload continues without supporting staff, especially in the accounts department.
The officer, who was on the verge of tears while relating the conditions under which they have to work, told Barbados TODAY the state of affairs has been made even worse with staff not being paid shift allowances and overtime for this month because Government retrenched ten workers from the accounts department as part of its restructuring programme.
And if that was not bad enough, the officer complained that she and her colleagues have also been told by a senior official that workers cannot be paid next month either due to a shortage of staff.
“In all fairness, when you work for money, you shouldn’t hear two months straight, ‘we ain’t paying this or we ain’t paying that, or we ain’t working on this aspect or the next aspect of your money because we don’t have staff.’ About ten persons out of the accounts department were sent home . . . and I think they only left about two. Then they managed to pull an additional three or four from the airport on a one-off basis,” reported the border security officer.
She complained that the staff in accounts cannot handle the amount of money and allowances paid in Customs.
“I think the Comptroller or somebody should step up to the plate and say ‘I got hard-working staff and they need to be paid their due. It makes no sense working if you can’t be paid,” she argued.
The customs officer told Barbados TODAY when she went to the bank to collect her salary she only saw $400. Stating that she has a mortgage, a car and children to support, the border security officer expressed disgust that the department owes her about $8,000 in outstanding pay.
“Everybody going through the same thing. Another colleague called me and told me, ‘you think it bad?’ She paying for house and car too…working in customs every month, hard, hard. She told me, ‘I went to the bank . . . you think you bad? I got three-something in my hand.’ She said she has to call her mother and father overseas and tell them ‘send some money [for] me,’” reported the customs officer.
“If I trying to be the type of citizen that you want me to be, I shouldn’t be treated this way. And people would see me going along with a car and would want to hijack me because they think I working for money ’cause they see me in uniform. But nobody knows what we have to go through,” lamented the public servant.
She complained that apart from the problem of pay, there were no resting quarters for customs officers.
“We don’t even have quarters. Airport security has quarters, port security has bunk beds, everybody has bunk beds and quarters . . . the police got. You know what we have to do? Sleep across chairs in a cold, cold airport every four nights,” she lamented.
When Barbados TODAY reached out to the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) which represents some of these employees, its Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond described the situation in customs as madness.
Walrond said the NUPW has been writing the Personnel Administration Department and will again write that division on this latest development urging them to address this matter urgently.
In fact, he said the Government may have to return to the drawing board and rehire at least some of those laid off from Customs.
“They sent home 19 persons from Customs. They even sent home cashiers that collect revenue. So now you’re putting pressure on the same Customs Officers to pick up some of this slack, but there is nobody to do the overtime . . . so Customs Officers can’t get paid their overtime,” the union official said.
Walrond also warned that the Customs staff are burnt out and the department may experience problems by the turn of the New Year if Prime Minister Mottley does not step in.
“If it is not arrested urgently, we could see this untenable situation spilling over to the New Year,” he cautioned.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this Government has to go back to the drawing board with this whole meeting targets vis á vis against the dislocation within the public service. I think there will have to be a balancing act between the two,” Walrond said.
Leader of the Unity Trade Union Senator Caswell Franklyn, whose organization represents some customs officers, accused the Government of being uncaring and of merely focusing on bodies and not the sensitive nature of the situation.
“They are not doing it with any sort of rhyme or rhythm. They sent home customs officers and they are now taking customs officers from doing actual customs work and putting them in accounts,” Franklyn told Barbados TODAY.
He said the actions of the Government are damaging the people of Barbados. firstname.lastname@example.org