With central Government’s lifeline to be cut at month-end and no money left to pay the current staff, concerns are mounting at the Transport Board about the pace of negotiations with the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) over a second round of layoffs.
A Transport Board source close to the talks has told Barbados TODAY that after two months of meetings, neither the union nor the state-owned bus service was budging from their respective positions.
Earlier this week, the Transport Board was barely able to scrape together the funds to pay workers for last month, the source said, adding that management feared that if progress towards reaching middle ground is not made soon, the decision might be out of its hands all together.
The source said: “We don’t have a choice but to reach an agreement by March 31 because if there is no agreement with the union, we would have to lay off the people anyway because there would be no money to pay them. You can’t have people working for you if you can’t pay them.”
The official said that the workers’ bargaining agent seemed intent on playing hardball although it is aware that job losses are inevitable in the second round of cuts under the IMF-approved Barbados Economic Recovery Transformation (BERT) programme.
The source told Barbados TODAY: “The union is not moving and the Transport Board is not moving, and as a result Government has not given a green light in terms of numbers because everyone is playing a cat-and-mouse game. It appears that the union will like the board to continue as is indefinitely but that simply cannot work.
“The workers only just got paid for February. Right now, we don’t have the buses on the road, so it is the taxpayers that are paying the workers.
“They [BWU] seem to think that the Transport Board holds out its hand to the Ministry of Finance, who then opens the tap and the money comes flowing out.”
Noting that time was a luxury that the negotiation process could ill-afford, the source noted: “The curtain is going to come down on March 31 because the budget for next [financial] year does not accommodate 540 people working at the Transport Board. We have to reduce it because we cannot put a burden on the state and taxpayers that is too great for them to bear.”
Barbados TODAY made several unsuccessful attempts to reach several senior union officials for comment. It is understood that both entities will again be meeting on Friday, when it is hoped that a deal could be reached on the numbers to go on the breadline.
Last November, the Transport Board retrenched 50 of its 600-strong workforce. First to go were those who received permanent appointments just weeks before the May 24 General Election.
Then, in December, 50 workers, mainly bus drivers, opted for voluntary separation packages, but those have not yet been finalised.