By Sheria Brathwaite
The relationship between management of the Transport Board and hundreds of disgruntled workers is on the mend after a 12-hour work stoppage that caused severe disruption in the public transport and education sectors.
The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) which represents the vast majority of employees at the state-owned transport provider confirmed that some of the issues that prompted the action had been resolved, including concerns about acting arrangements, while management has been given just over a month to deal with other outstanding matters.
“What we were able to do over the course of the day was to resolve at least some of those issues that would have brought workers outside this morning, specifically the acting arrangements for terminal managers and the acting arrangement for clerks who have been regularised as senior clerks effective [from] July 2 2020,” BWU general secretary Toni Moore reported, although warning that if commitments made were not upheld, the Transport Board would be hit by a work stoppage again.
From as early as 4:30 a.m., hundreds of drivers, supervisors and general workers turned up for duty at Transport Board depots across the island but did not drive a stroke.
A number of them gathered at the Police Sports Club in Weymouth, Roebuck Street, St Michael, adjacent to the Transport Board headquarters, where several buses were parked.
Just after 8 a.m., as thousands of students were making their way to school and some were already there, Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw announced that public schools would be closed.
As news circulated about the industrial action, the crowd at the Princess Alice Bus Terminal thinned, leaving a few schoolchildren and other commuters sitting on benches waiting for Transport Augmentation Programme (TAP) drivers to take them to their various destinations. This was also the case in the Fairchild Street Bus Terminal.
When a Barbados TODAY team arrived at Weymouth just before 7 o’clock, workers were huddled together speaking to their BWU shop stewards, and soon after union delegates arrived.
Just before 10 a.m., consultant to the union’s general secretary and veteran trade unionist Sir Roy Troman arrived and spoke to the workers briefly. Moore, who arrived shortly afterwards, subsequently addressed the workers.
Other union officials, including deputy general secretary Dwaine Paul, were also present.
Moore told the media that the main issue of concern was acting and appointment arrangements. She noted that those issues and other grievances would have been raised with the Labour Department as far back as two years ago and were also discussed at a meeting with the union, the Prime Minister and Minister of Transport in May 2022.
After the BWU officials consulted with the workers, they met with Transport Board management at Solidarity House. Around noon, when that meeting was adjourned, Moore returned to Weymouth to inform the workers that she put their suggestions on the table and management was reviewing them.
Five hours later, she went back to the workers and during that time, chief executive officer of the Transport Board Fabian Wharton announced that there would be a resumption of bus service around 6 p.m. or thereafter and service would resume as normal on Tuesday.
Moore explained that there had been partial resolution to the workers’ issues, as she explained that the day’s action was a result of the employees having reached their breaking point.
“Those who had responsibility to pick up on the issues failed to pick up on the issues and today is where we came, having gone through meetings with the labour department – seeing a number of issues that were before the board remaining before the board without getting due attention and this is where we are. There comes a point in time where workers would have enough and say that they have had enough and today was one of those occasions,” she told the media.
Moore said there were protocols to follow in terms of appointing workers and having them act in positions but those were not honoured, adding that those procedures needed to be revisited and adhered to.
The BWU general secretary added that this was a “frustrating” issue at the Mangrove, St Philip depot where the work stoppage started.
She reported that Transport Board management agreed to meet with the union between Monday and February 28 to discuss other issues such as payment, acting arrangements regarding retired workers, the structure of the quality assurance department which she said developed into several human resource matters, operators working on public holidays and other working arrangements that could have implications for commuters.
However, she warned that if management failed to address the issues over that period and in a timely manner there could be a recurrence of what transpired on Monday.
Initially, shop stewards and workers were tightlipped about the issues affecting operations at the state-owned entity; however, just before leaving Weymouth, they said they were pleased with how the negotiations went 1and thanked the BWU executive for their efforts.
Meanwhile, general secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union Caswell Franklyn distanced himself and the 50 workers he represents from Monday’s action.
He said his members “turned up for work but they were prevented from working” due to the stoppage.
Franklyn said he hoped they were not implicated in the action in any way and would receive their day’s pay.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education also assured that classes would resume on Tuesday.
The announcement in the evening came after Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona had earlier in the day issued a memo to principals of all public nurseries, primary, secondary and special schools, advising them to inform teachers to prepare to conduct online classes for the remainder of the week if the situation at the Transport Board was not resolved.