COW down: but not out
by Roy R. Morris
With these words, Barbados’ best known construction personality, Sir Charles Williams, confirmed to Barbados TODAY that his company had served lay-off notices on all staff, including supervisors and managers.
In a telephone interview from Argentina, the C.O. Williams Construction boss, however, strongly denied reports that as many as 100 workers would be sent home. He explained that with the coming into force of the Employment Rights Act, companies were required to give workers six weeks notice ahead of any layoffs.
Based on current trends, he said, it would be less than prudent to continue business as usual then find out in a few weeks they have no choice but to pay workers, while at the same time there is no work for them to do.
A memo sent to staff by General Manager Neil Weekes said: “Regrettably, this year the company has experienced a substantial downturn in the amount of work projects, hence overall revenue earnings. This has therefore impacted the company’s capacity to sustain the workforce at its present magnitude.
“To this end, this letter serves to inform of the
impending layoffs that will commence on or shortly after May 7, 2013.
“The company has made every effort to preserve jobs for as long as possible, but circumstances are now of such that layoffs are imminent and will take place on or after the aforementioned date.”
Sir Charles, who did not hide his anger at the situation, said one of the major challenges facing the company was the many millions it was owed indirectly by Government.
“You know how I feel knowing that every day thousands
of people are driving up and down on the ABC Highway,
when after all these years we can’t get paid for it?” he asked.
He explained that C.O. Williams Construction was now owned almost $20 million, including interest, for work it did for 3S Construction on the highway ahead of the contract being terminated by the David Thompson Government almost immediately after it won the 2008 elections.
Sir Charles said too that the company was being hurt by the fact that it pays its staff “more than any other construction company in Barbados”, remains current on statutory obligations, unlike some competitors, and as a result of unions’ agreements must provide uniforms for staff, while other companies don’t.
“There are some sacred cows in this country who don’t have to pay what we pay,” said Sir Charles. “But they are sacred cows, I am just … cow.”
In spite of this, he said, the economic challenges meant that today they had no choice but to price jobs at 2006/07 levels in order to compete, while labour was considerably more expensive and fuel prices had gone up substantially.
“We are not sending home 100 people,” this is just a security measure. “But we might be sending home some, as we have done in the past.”
He revealed that C.O. Williams Construction, prior to the February general elections had submitted to Government a private/public partnership project, which if accepted by the Freundel Stuart Administration, should help to save jobs.
Additionally, he said while in Argentina he would be meeting with a top official from the World Bank who should be able to provide some expert advice on developing more partnerships of this type.
C.O. Williams Construction, the country’s most recognised construction brand, employs about 600 people.