Friday is the last day on the job for the workers of Gymnasium Ltd, as Government has dissolved the state-owned operator of the Sir Garfield Sobers Sports Complex.
At least 25 employees have been made redundant, as the National Sports Council (NSC) takes over the running of the island’s largest multi-sports complex and gymnasium at Wildey.
But the development has come as a shock to acting general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW), Delcia Burke, who said the union had been in discussions with Gymnasium Ltd’s management as recently as two weeks ago.
She said while the union had been made aware of a planned merger with the NSC and of possible job losses due to the twinning of duties, it was not prepared for the news.
Burke told Barbados TODAY: “All of the staff at the Gymnasium Limited have been made redundant, the entire staff has been severed and the Gymnasium Limited has been dissolved. I was surprised because we didn’t think it would go down like that. I think everyone was surprised to be honest.
“Up until the last time we met on March 22, we were still being told that the NSC was going to take over the staff.
“As a matter of fact the NSC had voted money for the new financial year to pay Gymnasium Limited staff.”
Burke said the NUPW was only made aware of the impending job cuts during an 8 a.m. meeting with the Gymnasium’s chairman Faye Burke, management officials and shop stewards. Employees were informed one hour later, she said.
Burke revealed that 16 of the workers had volunteered for separation packages, as they wanted no part of the merger.
She said after being informed, staff members had “appeared to be alright” and were more concerned as to when they would be paid.
Burke disclosed that the Gymnasium Ltd wanted to meet with NUPW officials yesterday, but the union was unable to do so because of its elections.
Back in 2014, then Minister of Sport Stephen Lashley had disclosed that Government was considering the merger of the Gymnasium, the NSC and Kensington Oval Management Inc, in an attempt to end duplication and cut costs.
Last December, Minister of Sport John King said he could not promise there would be no jobs losses as a result of the merger of the NSC and the Gymnasium.
King said then no assurance on jobs could be given as no definitive decision had been made as yet.
“The ministry has not yet, and I want to stress, has not yet completed its proposals for the merger. We have been in intense discussions between not only the Ministry itself, but the various boards of the two entities. We have been looking at where we can do the best job of making sure that both entities give to the Barbadian public the kind of service that they deserve.
“Once it is completed, and we are able to say definitively what is going to be happening I would be prepared to come back to the nation (of Barbados) and say exactly what is happening. Until that time, I want to give the Barbadian people the assurance that there is nothing to be worried about; there is nothing to be concerned about, but the information that you so desire, which is factual, can only come after we have completed the process,” he said four months ago.
Burke said the NUPW would continue to lobby on behalf of the severed workers.
“If the Gymnasium Ltd is going to be dissolved there isn’t much we can do. What I plan to do is to write to the Ministry asking that these workers be offered the first opportunity if there are any jobs available at the NSC.
“The NSC would determine for itself if it wants to hire any of them and they would start from scratch,” she said.
An official with knowledge of the development told Barbados TODAY they were surprised at how quickly everything unfolded.
The source said: “The merger was always on the cards, but I’m surprised that this has come to such a swift end. The last news I had heard was that the lawyer for the Gymnasium was still trying to work out some things,” the source said.
The source said it was understood that workers would be getting their packages as the money had been approved.
But Burke said although the union had not been informed of its planned action before today, she could not say exactly what had transpired.
“I don’t think that Government acted in bad faith, I don’t know what happened so I can’t say that. All I can say is that whatever we were told was going to happen, that changed, but I am not aware of what happened to cause the change,” Burke added.
Efforts to reach Minister of Sport John King have so far proved unsuccessful.