BICO, the oldest ice cream manufacturer in Barbados, will be faced with protest action on Thursday morning as the mobile sales team continues to object to recent changes to the fee structure.
A number of full-time and part-time mobile ice cream retail vendors are protesting management’s move to impose what they describe as steep increases in various fees including electricity charges to offset hikes by the Barbados Light & Power Company (BL&P).
Some of the ice cream mobilers, as they are called, decided to embark on protest action following what they described as an unsuccessful meeting on Tuesday with BICO’s Executive Chairman Edwin Thirlwell which was called to try to negotiate a more “manageable” increase in charges for the rental of certain equipment and provision of services to the on-the-road sales team.
The mobile sales persons who are on contract as franchisers with the 122-year-old company, parked their vans and trucks in the yard of the company since Tuesday and refused to sell anything until there is a review of the new charges, some of which take effect on April 17.
“There are other measures such as increases in security fees when the vans are not working. He [Edwin Thirlwell] wants to charge us $20 a day and then he wants to charge those who use an inverter power outlet $29 a week, and those who have holdover cabinets, which would be the bigger vans, he wants to charge $68 a week,” one of mobile sales persons who preferred to remain anonymous told Barbados TODAY.
“And then you have to make a minimum sales of $3,000 per week for April, for May it is $3,500 a week and then for June it is $4,000 a week. So each month it is increasing and you can’t meet those demands because of the way the market is, the market is not really buying. Ice cream is not selling the way it used to years ago with all of these price hikes and so on,” the franchise operator disclosed, adding that the price of the product that is sold to them has also risen.
The worker also complained that the price at which they buy the product from BICO is impacting their profit margin.
“We were promised a 35 per cent fixed (profit margin), but we didn’t get it. It is only 30 per cent and that would fluctuate. Some sales when we buy ice cream would go from 28 per cent. It could go as low as 25 per cent.
“There are a lot of breaches in our contract as well. They are supposed to negotiate with us on when we want to advertise for sales and what products to have in a sale. That doesn’t happen. Then he wants our trucks to work six days a week. But the labour laws talk about working five days and two off days in a 40-hour week,” the worker pointed out.
But in response, Executive Chairman Thirlwell insisted that the mobilers were being unreasonable.
“The electricity charges for a cold storage at BICO have gone up by 119 per cent,” he charged. “Due to an oversight when we reviewed the charges in relation to the Barbados Port Inc contract for the handling of cargo, the accounts department did not update the charges in relation to the electricity for BICO mobilers,” he explained.
“So, whatever they were paying, which seems like 30 something dollars, had gone to $68. It was an oversight on our part, which of course is not sustainable. We have been paying electricity bills starting off at $75,000 per week to Light and Power. Then they went slightly down to $75,000 every two weeks, which caused us to recalculate the charges and make them more realistic. And all the signs are they might be going up again shortly because the future is uncertain,” Thirlwell cautioned.
“So I don’t know why anyone would think adjustments are not necessary. I tried to explain to them that we don’t have a money tree down here. We have to pay our bills, because if we don’t pay our bills, the Light and Power will cut us off,” the executive chairman noted.
“I am afraid what the mobilers are saying is not realistic. They are not thinking beyond the end of their noses,” he stated.
The ice cream boss however said that the retail mobile sales persons staying away from work on Wednesday had not adversely impacted the operation because the wholesalers made the deliveries to places such as hotels.
Thirlwell pointed out that any losses would be at the feet of the retailers who wouldn’t be paid since they didn’t work.