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Customs officers at revenue authority raise new concerns

All is not well with customs officers who have been seconded to the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), with many still worried about job security.

The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) met with the officers at its Dalkeith Road, St Michael headquarters for two hours this afternoon to listen to their concerns and discuss how to tackle their problem.

Acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith said the majority of officers were uneasy about their future because their secondment to the revenue collections agency ends in six months time.

Smith added that there were other issues of concern, including plans to outsource the agency’s valuation unit, which she said was contrary to what the workers had expected.

“The meeting was called as a result of the workers having a number of concerns at the BRA since the transition to the BRA. Most of the officers at BRA are on secondment which will come to an end by March 16, 2016. However, the officers have been experiencing a number of challenges in relation to their pension rights and car loans for travelling officers since they have heard that the valuation unit in BRA will be outsourced. We have plans to hold a meeting with management to clarify these claims because they go contrary to what the workers would have anticipated over the two-year period,” Smith told reporters shortly after emerging from the talks.

“There are also concerns in terms of job security because of the length [of time] it is taking to appoint some of those workers. We were told in an earlier meeting that most workers were appointed, however it seems not to be the case. The workers said the union needs to have an urgent meeting with management to ensure that these claims can be clarified to the best of the union’s knowledge. The workers themselves would have a legitimate expectation having transitioned to BRA,” Smith added.

The union boss pointed out that the workers wanted all the terms and conditions of their contract sorted out before the end of March 2016 because that was when they would have to make “an informed decision” whether to remain with the BRA or return to the general public service.

Smith declined to comment on reports that as many as 160 workers who had transitioned to that BRA were asking to return to the public service, but confirmed that the valuation unit would be outsourced.

“The issue is one where there are plans to outsource the valuation unit within BRA. This will have implications for those 30 persons within that unit where we would have to meet with management to have the matter rectified,” Smith said.

The subsumption of the customs and excise department into the BRA has been fraught with problems with officers initially refusing to move. They outlined a number of grievances including the issue of supersession and concern about the security of the island’s borders.

The long-running feud led to criticism from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who at one time urged the officers to accept their fate.

In mid-July the workers walked off the job protesting against what they said was Government’s attempts to “railroad” them into transitioning to authority and its failure to appoint temporary officers. They also claimed at the time that they were being coerced by management into signing option forms.

The row was finally settled after Sinckler, along with acting Comptroller of Customs Annette Weekes and BRA Commissioner Margaret Sivers met the union and the officers for three hours of talks in early August .

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