Minister tells Customs officers to accept their fate
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler today warned protesting Customs officers that “time is ticking away”.
Therefore, whether or not they chose to sign on to the Barbados Revenue Authority, the current standoff could not continue indefinitely.
Since last Friday, several unionized Customs officers have been off the job, while others have been on a go-slow, in protest of the Government’s plan to merge their department into BRA.
As a result, there have been lengthy delays at both the air and sea ports, with individuals and business people complaining about the high costs of clearing items at the Bridgetown Port.
“You have to be concerned about what is taking place,” said Sinckler, who is hopeful that “mature heads will prevail and we can move past this stage.
“What is important is that we continue to ensure that we do not do things that could derail the recovery that is happening in Barbados,” he said.
And in response to calls by the unions for Government to withdraw recent option forms issued to the Customs workers, the Minister of Finance said: “I am not stuck in the mud about anything”.
However, he is interested in having a firm timetable set for the planned transition.
“Show me the roadmap and the timeframe for getting those option letters out to the workers. Let’s set some firm timelines so that we do not have to be going around the mulberry bush with this all of the time,” Sinckler said.
Insisting that the best way to settle the ongoing disagreement was to “come to a decision one way or another”, he pointed out if Customs officers chose not to join BRA, they would be placed elsewhere in the public service.
“We are at mid-July and time is ticking away. But at the end of the day . . . this is an option. You can choose to go or choose not to go. It is simple. Nobody is ramming anything down anybody’s throat,” said Sinckler.
“If you don’t want to go, say, ‘no’ and let us move on. But we cannot be in this stalemated situation where people are saying, ‘negotiations are going on, discussions are going on, and discussions are going on’ and we do that ad infinitum. It has to come to a stop at some point where certainty has to exist.
“Either the officers want to go or they don’t want to go,” he stressed.
Criticizing the Customs officers for taking protest action during negotiations, Sinckler said he was yet to officially hear back from the unions following their last meeting last month.
“At the end of the day there are fundamental issues in relation to the functioning of Customs that have to be addressed. If we address it in the BRA . . . with the DLP Government or the BLP Government, with Chris Sinckler as Minister of Finance or anybody else, those issues have to be addressed,” he insisted, while stating that the unions had been aware of the pending merger from the time “it was a project”.