National shutdown as early as Wednesday
Travel in and out of Barbados could be affected tomorrow, as this island’s two leading trade unions prepare for a national shutdown as early as Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a standing-room-only meeting of members at the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) this evening, the top spokeswoman for the NUPW warned that pending final agreement with the Barbados Workers Union on a date this week for the escalated action, workers at the Customs & Excise Department, who are already on a go-slow, “will be going slower until the date is announced”.
However, Roslyn Smith made it clear that both unions were committed to staging the shutdown.
“Phase three of the action is expected to take place shortly. We are awaiting word from our sister union, the Barbados Workers Union, because they are meeting with their workers at 5 p.m. and we are awaiting the date, whether it’ll be Wednesday or Thursday for the total shutdown,” said Smith.
She further warned that “immigration is onboard, so you can see some activity at the airport as well as the sea port”.
These workers are expected to join their unionized colleagues at the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), who went on strike last week, refusing to collect garbage or to dig graves at state-owned cemeteries across the country.
The action comes at the height of an impasse with the Government over the recent termination of 10 workers, over the age of 60, at the state-run Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC).
The NUPW has been demanding that Government withdraws these letters of termination or agrees to pay the affected workers until age 67. However, the Freundel Stuart administration has maintained that it acted within the law and is therefore not prepare to rescind the dismissals.
However, while insisting that the issue was not only one of age discrimination, Smith accused the Government of showing “disrespect” to workers at the Customs department, who are due to step up their protests from tomorrow.
She revealed that some Customs workers, who have been dead set against moves by the Government to merge their operations into the umbrella Barbados Revenue Authority, were issued with option forms today, despite the fact that management had promised to await word from the union before doing so.
“As a result of that, the Customs will be coming onboard, along with the Sanitation Services Authority and the Immigration Department. We are saying again, ‘enough is enough’ and we will not stand for this ongoing slide of disrespect for us.
“After we receive word later tonight [on the outcome of the BWU talks] . . . we will issue a joint communique on the action to be taken.
However, she stressed, “we are not retreating unless we get the letters for those 10 workers withdrawn”.
Smith also defended the recent strike by the SSA workers, saying it was not only in support of their BIDC counterparts. She said they had concerns of their own which they wanted the Government to address.
“We have written the management seeking a meeting by the 15th of this month on matters that are of concern to the SSA,” said the NUPW spokeswoman, while noting that in light of the strike “you have persons collecting the garbage with their bare hands” without getting the necessary health checks.
Expressing strong disgust over the situation, the union official said the lives of these individuals were being put at risk.
The NUPW top executive also said that while the SSA management was complaining it had no money to repair SSA trucks that have been taken off the road, it has been able to pay private truckers as much as $200 a day to collect the refuse.
“So we are saying the workers are not paid, then you will see another side of the action. You cannot be saying on one hand you don’t have money to supply the equipment and the proper gloves to the SSA workers and you are going to spend money, not only on the trucks that you have here, but you have big tractors with $2,500 a week or something like that. So that is an insult to injury.”
Smith explained that the union was not against non-SSA truckers volunteering to collect the garbage, but she insisted they should not to be paid to do so.
“. . . when you are paying private sector persons $200 a day, I think that is an insult to the workers at the SSA. You have the trucks because one minute you send them to Transtech by the time they come back they are not working. I have a difficulty with that,” Smith stressed.
The union boss said when the BIDC impasse was resolved, the NUPW will turn its attention to the SSA.