The inordinately long dormant Barbados Workers’ Union has finally awoken from its years of slumber and has stood up to Government, on behalf of the long-suffering workers of the Barbados Water Authority. No sensible person takes delights in strike action but the Barbados Workers’ Union has shown that it is prepared to use the union’s ultimate weapon, when it is forced by an employer who refuses to see reason.
I congratulate the General Secretary and her Executive Council for its action in support of these workers, but more importantly for rekindling the spirit of trade unionism in this country. Good Job!
That said, I would like to address a number of other niggling, intractable issues that have been plaguing workers for several years that regularly cross my desk. These issues might not evoke widespread anger to generate industrial action but they are causing disquiet among workers.
The Public Service Act (PSA) was passed in the dying days of the Arthur administration. Some aspects are very desirable which appear as though they were designed to woo the public-service vote. Unfortunately for Arthur his last-ditch efforts did not capture the imagination of the Public Service for whatever reason. But it now appears that the benefits that he placed on the books that were intended to apply to all eligible workers are being applied selectively.
Section 13.(7) of the Public Service Act provides that any person who: is not appointed; has been employed for not less than three years prior to December 31, 2007; and have the necessary qualifications for appointment, shall be entitled to be appointed with effect from December 31, 2007; and shall be treated as being so appointed. So far over three thousand workers, who met the criteria, have been permanently appointed in the Public Service.
Eight years and three months after persons became eligible for automatic appointment, there are still pockets of workers who qualify but have not been appointed, in accordance with the law. Whenever the appointing authority is challenged on the non appointment of officer in this category, they invariably reply that they were not enough established posts to accommodate everyone who qualified.
That response does not make sense in light of section 13.(5) of the PSA, which states:
(5) Subject to subsection (6), all temporary offices in the Public Service that
(a) were created as temporary offices; and
(b) have been in existence for 3 or more years at 31st December, 2007,
are hereby established as public offices in the Service.
The only reasonable explanation for the surplus of persons over post would be that some persons, who did not qualify in accordance with the PSA, were appointed in preference to those who qualified.
To deny these workers their right to automatic appointment for such an extended period is bad enough but now some of them are now being asked to apply and be interviewed for jobs that they have been performing satisfactorily for more than a decade. In some instances, these workers are being denied their appointments on the pretext that they did poorly at interview. When all is said and done, it needs to be explained how workers who have an automatic entitlement to be appointed do not eventually get their jobs.
Section 13.(8) of the PSA makes provision for officers, who are already appointed but had been acting in higher, vacant posts for the same three-year period, to be appointed with effect from December 31, 2007. Regrettably, when the appointing authority decide to make the appointments, they do so without regard to the rights that have been acquired by officers. The most recent appointments in the Customs and Excise Department followed that trend.
Constraints of space would only allow me to deal with one other area where Government refuses to comply with the law. Section 13 of the Employment Rights Act requires employers, including statutory boards , to give the employee a written statement of the particulars of the employment, prior to or forthwith upon the commencement of the contract. Among other things the statement must contain a description of the work for which the person is employed.
Two years after it started employing staff the Barbados Revenue Authority has not complied with this mandatory provision, and are only now seeking to put terms and conditions in place in collaboration with the National Union of Public Workers.
It goes without asking but I will ask nonetheless: What example is Government setting by being the lawmaker and a major lawbreaker?