Lawyers for aggrieved customs officers delay court action
Legal action continues to loom over the operations of this country’s Customs & Excise Department.
However, lawyers representing 12 aggrieved customs officers say a final decision on whether they will proceed with their threatened lawsuit against the Public Service Commission (PSC) depends on the outcome of the interview process which is currently ongoing in that Government department.
It is the latest twist in the ongoing saga that has surrounded Government’s plans to subsume the customs department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
While the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) continues to advise its members against signing on to BRA, attorneys for 12 of the affected workers have taken serious issue with the process of finalizing appointments within the Department.
They had therefore written to the PSC last month giving it until Monday, September 12 to rescind the appointments of workers who were promoted to the posts of Assistant Comptroller of Customs, Customs Officer ll and Customs Officer lll, effective September 1. However, that deadline for a response from the Government’s appointing agency passed without incident.
And today, the lead attorney for the aggrieved 12, Gregory Nicholls, explained that the planned legal recourse had been put on hold because the PSC had started to interview some of his clients. He said he was therefore putting any further court action on pause “to see how the interviews go”.
However, Nicholls did not rule out the possibility of pursuing the threatened lawsuit at a later date.
In the meantime, the 23 contentious promotions have been published in the Official Gazette, dated September 8, 2016.
At the same, Government has gone ahead and appointed three workers who were acting as Customs Officers ll and lll in their positions, even though Nicholls and his clients have deemed the move to be “unfair, irregular and unlawful”.
“Our clients are jointly and severally aggrieved by the process which occasioned the appointment of those public officers to the said posts in the Customs & Excise Department and contend that their status as public officers has been materially affected by an unfair, irregular and unlawful process which led to the said appointments being made,” Gregory Nicholls & Associates had said in a letter dated September 2, 2016 to PSC Chairman David Bowen and captioned, The Appointment of Public Officers to Vacant posts in the Customs & Excise Department.
The NUPW, which is the main bargaining agent for the customs employees, has also been insisting that all appointments be settled as a pre-condition for transitioning customs into BRA, even though Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is currently hell-bent that there must be no further delay.
Earlier this week, he warned that Government would make a firm decision in a matter of weeks.
“I can tell you that some resolution is going to come to this matter very, very shortly if I have anything to do with it. We will see how it goes in the next few weeks,” Sinckler said while responding to questions during Tuesday’s Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry business luncheon at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.