Workers uneasy about future amid serious money woes at UCAL
Some 124 workers at the United Commercial Autoworks Ltd (UCAL) are now on tenterhooks as the company considers layoffs as part of restructuring its operations from as early as next month.
Shop steward and director Richard Newton made the disclosure in a Barbados TODAY interview in which he said the business was struggling to remain afloat.
“Unless the Transport Board decides to give us some more work so that we can maintain the staff that we have right now, come January 2015, UCAL might have to restructure,” he warned.
Also contending that UCAL must start operating as a business and not as “a friendly society”, he pointed out that sometimes for “two and three days, men don’t get a job,”.
“What we have to hope is [for] Transport Board to give us some monies,” the union representative told Barbados TODAY while maintaining that “we can’t send people home without money . . . We can’t do as NCC (the National Conservation Commission)”.
UCAL, which is primarily responsible for repairing Transport Board buses, has been in dire straits for some time now with the situation worsening daily.
Newton disclosed that the National Insurance Scheme had taken it to court over its $2.6 million debt, adding that “this really is not the first time they have filed in the Supreme Court”.
He also said UCAL was experiencing serious problems in meeting its Value Added Tax (VAT) and other statutory commitments.
“We cannot pay VAT, we cannot pay National Insurance; we cannot pay corporation tax and we cannot pay PAYE,” Newton explained.
Overall, he said UCAL had around $8 million in debt that this continues to grow while quoting from official documents to show that it was currently $57,000 shy of meeting its $500,000 overdraft limit with suppliers demanding $114,025.76 in outstanding payments.
Aside from what is owed to NIS and creditors, the company has $2.8 million outstanding in VAT; more than $600,000 in PAYE; $708,301 in corporation taxes; a $60,876 bank loan; $987,800 in rent to Transport Board and $1.3 million in back pay, dating back to 2007.
Compounding the situation is the fact that the company is not making enough money to pay wages and salaries and is in the red $129,310, just three months into the financial year that started in August.
“Our bank, Republic Bank, is now reviewing the credits for all the companies that they operate with. UCAL’s review is due February 11, 2015. I don’t know what’s going to happen because they’re saying all the statutory obligations have to be updated . . . Unless we get some money from Transport Board to clear these [debts], get these [payments] up to date by February 11 next year, we’re going to be in trouble with our overdraft facility,” Clarke explained.
Fed up with the situation, the workers operating at the Weymouth, Roebuck Street workshop first downed tools in April over the non-payment of wages and salaries by the Transport Board.
The most recent industrial action occurred in September at which time Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley promised to pay them $3.7 million.
“He has not indicated anything to us since that last meeting, that was sometime in September,” said Newton, who sums up the future of UCAL as “very bleak right now”.
Duty driver Troy Nicholls, who has been employed at the company for 14 years, said the situation was very stressful.
“We ain’t asking for no handouts, we ain’t asking for no favours. We work for our money and it’s hard for a man to come in here and work everyday for a week and then come Friday you don’t know if you’re going to get paid; you don’t know if you’re going to get your money Wednesday (from Transport Board). That is nonsense man!” he said in frustration.
Mechanic Jonathan Jones was also upset, particularly with Minister Lashley.
“The minister made a promise to us on the 26 September that he would give us ‘x’ amount of money and to this day the minister has not honoured his commitment. [I want to know] if the other members of Cabinet are like him, don’t keep their commitments.”
Back in October, Lashley accused UCAL workers of negotiating in the media and warned that neither taxpayers nor the Transport Board will not be held to ransom.