Threatened strike action by Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators is now off the table, but protest against a new uniform bearing the Barbados Transport Authority’s logo may come in another form.
The Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance said today, after a hastily-called meeting with officials from the ministry, the Barbados Transport Authority, representatives of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) and Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (AOPT), that strike action scheduled for January 2 and 3 has been called off.
“The operators were up in arms over a notice in the newspapers from the Transport Authority, which stated that the Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance has updated its uniform and dress code for PSV drivers and conductors, and this new dress code would come into effect January 2,” the Ministry said in a statement, adding that the parties spent more than two hours thrashing out their concerns at the meeting chaired by Minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance Peter Phillips.
The date for PSV operators to start wearing the new shirts, which cost $65 each, has now been pushed back to March 1.
However, drivers and conductors at the two major terminals in Bridgetown told Barbados TODAY that their concern was not about the date of implementation of the policy but the policy itself, which prevents them from wearing their own logos on the shirts.
“I don’t work for the Transport Authority, I work for me. I cannot even put my own company logo on my uniform, but I have to put yours?” asked Errol Nicholls while plying his trade at the Princess Alice Terminal.
Earlier this month, PSV operators were informed that the Ministry of Transport would be updating its uniform and dress code policy, reportedly in response to dissatisfaction by some members of the public on the attire and behaviour of PSV workers. In response, APTO chairman Morris Lee called on drivers and conductors to stage a two-day work stoppage starting Wednesday.
Despite their dissatisfaction with the Ministry’s policy, Nicholls said a strike would not be feasible. He said the PSV drivers were willing to stay on the road to meet the needs of the travelling public, but he said he would be protesting by continuing to wear his current uniform.
“If I go on strike, then people can’t go anywhere. It is up to them [authorities] to stop me from working, but I am working and I am going to work in my clothes, I am not working in theirs. I don’t work for them . . . . They don’t support me in anyway, and they don’t catch the vans, so I refuse to deal with them and that,” insisted Nicholls, a driver on the Deacons route who has over 30 years’ experience.
“I wear my uniform right through and I am comfortable wearing what I’m wearing, so that is what I’m working with. My passengers don’t complain . . . . I work every day to transport the travelling public that needs a ZR.”
Another driver, Tony Ferguson, suggested while most PSV operators were united in their stance against wearing the new uniforms, they were divided on whether they should strike. He is among those willing to stay off the road in protest.
“I am doing what they’re doing. If they’re striking, I am striking,” Ferguson said. “I used to wear a uniform from the early 1990s when it was only a yellow shirt. Then they changed it to maroon and yellow . . . . Now they want us to change again. I have enough clothes at home. Now they’re saying that we cannot put any other logo on it. Why don’t they go at C.O Williams and tell the workers up there to wear their uniform? They cannot go at anyone else’s company and decide to do that,” he argued.
Hensford Jones, another longstanding driver on the Bayfield route, argued that PSV operators were being treated differently to other private transport operators.
“We asked about the ‘BT’ (tour buses), ‘ZM’ (maxi taxis) and ‘Z’ taxis and they said they are privately owned, but these [PSVs] are privately owned too, so I am trying to get the men together, because some agree with taking action but others will not,” he said.
“It just doesn’t make sense that you are out here working for yourself and the Government is saying they want a cut in. The Government has the Transport Board. They need to learn to run the Transport Board first and then they can deal with us!”