Caught off guard
Angry commuters knock drivers’ action
For just over six hours today, hundreds of commuters, including scores of school children, Government and private sector employees, were left stranded.
This came as a result of crippling protest action by unionized drivers at the state-run Transport Board, who staged a surprise work stoppage for the better part of the day. The strike began at 5 a.m. and lasted until just after 11 a.m.
By the time Shikera Denny realized what was happening, it was already 7 a.m. and she was already stuck in the Princess Alice Bus Terminal, with her sleeping two-month-old baby wrapped in her arms.
A security guard alerted the young mother, who was travelling alone with several bags, that the bus drivers were on strike.
Worried about her heavy load, the Cave Hill, St Michael resident decided to await the resumption of her bus service but little did she know, it would be a six-hour wait for her and an at times restless infant.
By the time 12:30 p.m. rolled around, she had run out of patience.
The frustrated commuter told Barbados TODAY that while the drivers may have had a legitimate reason for refusing to work, she felt they could have been much more considerate of the needs of those commuters who depended on the Transport Board to get them to and fro.
Instead of embarking on protest action in the middle of the work week, she suggested that Sunday would have been a better day for them to go on strike.
“Dem should do this pun a Sunday when nobody ain’t got nutten to do,” the angry mother stated.
She also argued that officials of the Transport Board should have served notice to commuters as soon as they got word of the drivers’ action.
“I got my young daughter to deal with, but when she get up, I have to feed her and everything right here,” she complained, pointing to the empty benches in the bus terminal, which largely resembled a ghost town.
“I can’t even get the van because I would have too far to walk [to get home], and look at this load,” she said, showing her baby bag with diapers and three other parcels that made up her hand luggage.
Sitting not too far away from Denny was another disgruntled commuter, who requested anonymity. By then, it was minutes to one in the afternoon, and the woman openly complained that she had reached the terminal since 9 a.m. to catch the Shorey Village, St Andrew bus, after making her way to town from St Philip.
The private sector employee, who was due at work for 10 a.m., was concerned that she was already three hours late in getting to her job.
“I come here to hear that buses on strike because the drivers won’t get back some money them got to get. A fella tell me it come over the radio, but I didn’t know, because I don’t listen to no radio or watch no TV,” she said.
“My boss still want me come to work, but if one o’clock hit and I ain’t see a bus come here, I gone home,” the commuter said.
Similar complaints were voiced by other displaced Barbadians, who were left stranded in the main Fairchild Street Bus Terminal in the City, as well as the Speightstown Bus Terminal in the north.
However, not everyone was negatively affected by the work stoppage, which seemed to have provided an opportunity for privately operated public service vehicles to make extra cash.
When a Barbados TODAY team visited Speightstown just after 8 a.m., PSV operators were kept busy shuttling passengers around, amid a steady flow of commuters in and out of the taxi stand.
One Transport Board driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, apologized for the inconvenience but said they had to take action if there was going to be any change in their situation.
“We are sorry for putting you guys out but there is a lot going on that is not known to the public and we are not going back until the matters are addressed. Until our union reps calls us and tells us otherwise, this is how it will be,” the driver said.
An elderly gentleman, who was sitting close by, expressed frustration over that fact that he had been waiting for hours on a bus to get to Oistins.
Today, scores of school children were also forced to seek alternative means of getting to and from classes. However, when contacted this evening Acting Chief Education Officer Karen Best reported that all registered students were able to complete their CXC and CAPE examinations on time.
Following a one hour meeting with General Manager Sandra Forde and other representatives of the Board’s management, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union Toni Moore announced an end to the bus strike.
Moore informed that Management had agreed to release a clerical officer, whose recent hiring triggered today’s protest.
The employment of the officer, who is said to be a relative of a top official at the Board, was deemed to be a slap in the face of former employees who were recently sent home and whose retrenchment is still the subject of discussions between the Board and the workers’ bargaining agent at the level of the Labour Department.
Moore said management had however denied the workers’ claims that it had also gone ahead and outsourced chartered services, stating that to date it only reached the stage of accepting applications. Nevertheless, Moore insisted that any outsourcing of these services would have been in breach of an earlier agreement reached by the two sides to give preference to recently laid off Transport Board employees to operate the charters.
She called on the workers to return to work to allow for discussions between the union and management to continue.