Denis Clarke
Denis Clarke

With a proven record of 98 per cent failure on statutory boards, the National Union of Public Workers says it is not in favour of one being instituted at Customs.

The declaration was made strongly by General Secretary Dennis Clarke as he addressed the opening of the Annual General Meeting of the union this evening at its Dalkeith, St. Michael headquarters.

Speaking to the theme Health and Wellness is the key to a Productive Workforce, Clarke recalled the union’s recent focus on “unreasonable and unacceptable” practice at the Sanitation Service Authority regarding the lapse in the filling of vacancies, which were alleged to have been stymied by the board.

Since then, while some appointments were made, the manager and deputy manager posts were still vacant, said the general secretary, noting: “Those responsible for this state of affairs do not understand how sickening their stance has been. They cannot see the harm they have been doing to the minds and hearts of these officers.”

Keeping a worker guessing about his or her tenure for nine or 10 years could cause stress and lead to heart failure, insomnia, frustration and low productivity, he stated.

“The Ministry of Finance is on the move to create a statutory board through the merger of the Customs and Excise Department, the Inland Revenue Department, the Land Tax Department and the Cashiers Section of the Licensing Authority. The NUPW is not opposed to the establishment of a Central Revenue Authority but not as a statutory board.

“The sick behaviour of the Sanitation Service Authority has served as a good example as to why workers of the departments to be merged should stay clear of a statutory board and opt to remain in the public service,” he said.

“It is the union’s position that nothing good can come out of the transition given the state of the current operations of Customs. That department is bleeding to death and the Ministry of Finance, to date, has been unable to diagnose the cause that has been creating the discontent, apathy and (sick building syndrome) among staff.”

He therefore called for an urgent investigation into the consultant’s report which downgraded the operations of the Customs and Excise Department, stating that in the union’s view it was “seriously flawed” and did nothing to enhance or improve operations there.

“The upgrading of certain sectors of the department is badly needed to improve revenue collections. Instead we are transitioning a Customs Department that can be likened to a man on a pair of crutches with his left foot being unable to touch the ground because it is seriously damaged.”

The records of the public service, said Clarke, showed that 98 per cent of statutory boards had been failures because they did not respect “proper industrial relations or personnel management”.

“The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is currently exploring how it can reverse that agreement signed by the workers stating that their terms and conditions will be no less favourable than what they enjoyed as public officers, including the right of appeal to the local Privy Council.

“On hearing of this proposed activity by management, anxiety has stepped in and no doubt will affect the productivity of officers. I may not be able to walk as strongly as I did in 1994-1995 but I will walk and I want those responsible to take heed. Statutory boards are playgrounds for the egotistical. They are live stages for certain incompetent actors to exercise power where ordinarily they would not be able to do so,” the union boss warned.

There was also a school board, he complained, that did not respond to correspondence because it did not want to deal with the union, and while he would not name the school, Clarke stated “good manners begin at home”.

“But failure to respond to correspondence is not only a problem with certain schools but also some ministries. Workers are told by those offending heads, who are few in number, that they too are members of the union and Mr. Clarke is their friend.

“Based on that allegation they have been violating Provision 11.2 of the General Orders that states: ‘Every memorial or petition by any officer, whatever his grade, or by any member of the public, should be acknowledged without delay by the Head of Department concerned … that it is receiving attention’.

“It is high time that these heads of department are disciplined. They unnecessarily frustrate the workers and the union, in the union’s effort to ensure due process.”

He issued a call to the board of the Barbados Community College, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Civil Service to come together over the issue of appointments at that tertiary institution. (LB)

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