Controversy surrounds Government’s housing project at Lancaster, St James with allegations of late payment and other worker concerns and a dispute that has engaged the attention of police.
The trouble between state-owned developer Home Ownership Providing Energy (HOPE) Inc. and subcontractor Barbados Contractors & Artisans Cooperative Society Limited (BCACS) began after the latter entity claimed pay has been late on several occasions – and, in some instances, has not come at all – and workers have not been provided with all the materials needed to complete their tasks, resulting in delays.
HOPE Inc. has strongly denied the allegations, however, and has also banned BCACS founder and vice president Michael Harris Jr from the site following an incident in which the Barbados Police Service is now involved.
In an impromptu press meeting on Monday on the outskirts of the project, Harris charged that the democratic rights of his fellow workers were being “threatened”.
He explained that the BCACS was subcontracted to complete ten houses and 100 employees from five small businesses in the cooperative have been working on the project since January.
Six houses were to be handed over on Monday, the roofs of two were to be completed, and workers were also preparing to cast the bottom beams of the foundations for the other two houses.
However, Harris said the workers were upset about the pay and materials situation and after he vented their frustration to the BCACS, he visited the worksite to get a better understanding of what was occurring.
“I appeared at HOPE for the first time three weeks ago . . . to represent the concerns of the artisans and contractors on behalf of the co-operative and found out that they were being [mistreated] by HOPE. Work [is] being done and payment not being given. We signed a contract [where] we are supposed to be paid on Friday [and] you are going into the third week without pay. Wells [are] being dug 20 feet down and [you] can’t get paid,” Harris complained. “Poor people are fed up. Poor people want justice, fairness and equity . . . so we are calling today for the President of this nation to address this matter.”
Harris said that over the past weeks, debt to the BCACS had reached about $100 000 and contractors under the construction body were pulling their pockets to pay workers, buy materials and facilitate work, but were never reimbursed.
“[Workers] were not getting material to execute tasks given. All now men on certain sites waiting for certain materials . . . . There is another issue where we are in the back of the site [and] no electricity was provided. Two generators were provided [and] HOPE was supposed to provide the gasoline and gasoline is not being provided,” he lamented.
Harris said he has now been barred from entering the site.
“I was told that I wasn’t supposed to be on the property but my personal money has been injected into the HOPE project to pay wages and I am not paying any more wages [if] I can’t see the quality of work being produced. So it is depriving me from coming on site to inspect the work before I pay,” he contended.
According to a November 8 letter to BCACS from HOPE Inc., signed by attorney-at-law Valentina Blackman, Harris threatened to “mobilise other contractors” on October 16 and was described as unprofessional and his behaviour said to be “unwarranted”.
The letter stated that, with immediate effect, Harris “will not be permitted to enter upon the worksite at Vespera Gardens, Lancaster, St James, whether in his personal capacity or as a member or Director of the Barbados Contractors and Artisans Co-operative Society Ltd.”.
HOPE Inc., meanwhile, has denied Harris’ allegations.
It said in a statement that it was aware that a caller purporting to represent the BCACS made “certain disparaging remarks” about the company during the Down to Brass Tacks radio call-in programme and later spoke to reporters along a similar vein.
“HOPE wishes to state in the strongest terms that the allegations are unsubstantiated and untrue. HOPE recently had to take action against Mr Harris due to his verbal abuse of a HOPE staff member. BCACSL was informed by letter that Mr Harris was not permitted to enter HOPE’s job site at Lancaster, St. James,” it said.
“HOPE has always conducted its business dealings with the utmost integrity and makes payments to contractors once the work done by a contractor has been verified by our Quantity Surveyor. HOPE will take action against anyone who continues to malign the reputation and integrity of the company or its people.”
HOPE Inc. also stated that Harris refused to leave the job site and the matter “is now receiving the attention of the Barbados Police Service”.
Meanwhile, Harris said he was still awaiting word from Minister of Housing and Lands Dwight Sutherland about convening a meeting to discuss outstanding issues affecting small, black businesses in the construction sector.
Harris said the cooperative sent a letter to Sutherland on November 16 but did not receive any response.