Over the past few months, the Government of Barbados through the Minister of Finance, the Hon Christopher Sinckler M.P., has indicated that a financial crisis exists in Barbados. He has further advised that some institutions, including the Transport Board, will be forced to re-examine their processes and determine a method of reducing its expenditure, including but not limited to, separation of some employees.
At a meeting held today, February 28, 2014 with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), the joint BWU/Transport Board meeting continued the consultation process. This meeting was the fourth meeting over a period of weeks to address this matter.
Unfortunately, we did not conclude the meeting in agreement, but due to the ongoing financial crisis at the Transport Board, management was forced to make a decision to continue on the path as determined by the Government of Barbados and as such the process of the separation of employees commenced Friday February 28, 2014.
The Transport Board believes that it has met all of the requirements of both the Employment Right Act 2012 (ERA 2012) and Protocol 6. The details of our process are as follows:
- The Ministry of Finance announced that separations needed to be made, as the financial situation in the country was critical;
- On January 17, 2014 the Transport Board submitted to the Ministry of Transport and Works a listing of employees proposed for separation;
- A letter dated January 30, 2014 and received on January 31, 2014 from the Ministry of Civil Service was received by the Transport Board. This letter indicated that employees needed to be retrenched by January 31, 2014;
- The Transport Board replied on January 31, 2014 to the Ministry of Civil Service indicating that the timeline would not meet the requirements of the ERA 2013.
- The Transport Board met with the BWU on January 31, 2014 and agreed to a process for addressing the separation of employees from the Board. This agreement was as follows:-
- First, invite employees who are interested in voluntary redundancy to submit their names to the Human Resources Manager. It was clearly articulated that the submission of names does not guarantee acceptance by management;
- Second, after this initial process the management will consider persons who qualify for early retirement;
- Followed by persons with poor attendance records;
- Employees whose performance has been less than satisfactory over the years; then
- Finally, the process of Last In First Out would have been the next step.
- The management of the Transport Board held a series of staff meetings at all locations i.e. Weymouth, Fairchild Street, Princess Alice, Speightstown and Mangrove on February 4 and 5, 2014 to place this position to them and invited persons to volunteer for separation. A deadline for this process was given and a number of employees signed the forms indicating that they would be willing to take this option. It was clearly stated at those meetings that employees needed to make this decision knowing that the Board could only commit to meeting the emoluments identified within the Severance Payment Act.
- A meeting was again held with the BWU on February 7, 2014 to continue the consultation process. The BWU again asked that we explore additional options i.e. enhanced separation packages.
- On February 10, 2014 the Transport Board sent a letter to the Ministry of Transport and Works and copied this letter to the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of Finance. This letter included a proposal for enhancement to any emoluments that could be received by separated employees.
- On February 11, 2014 the Transport Board also sent a breakdown of the proposed payment referenced in the letter sent to the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of Finance on February 10, 2014.
- On February 12, 2014 a Memorandum was sent from the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport and Works to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of the Civil Service to discuss the abovementioned proposal.
- Also on February 12, 2014 the Transport Board sent a letter to the BWU advising that the concerns raised at the meeting held on February 7, 2014 were shared with the Ministry of Transport and Works, and that we were awaiting a response. This correspondence to the BWU was copied to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport and Works and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Transport Board;
- On February 17, 2014 a response was received from the Ministry of Transport and Works indicating that the Government of Barbados could not agree to any enhanced packages at this time;
- A meeting was held on February 27, 2014 between the BWU and the Transport Board. During the various discussions the General Secretary of the BWU asked that consideration be given to different categories of workers e.g. the chronically ill and employees who, by their work performance, might be separated at a later time; thereby given them a method of exiting the system on better terms. He again asked that some level of enhancement for separation packages be considered. The management of the Transport Board reiterated that the financial situation at the Transport Board would not allow for this to be considered.
After this was repeated several times, the General Secretary indicated that at a previous meeting attended by the representatives of the Ministry of Finance and representatives of the BWU, mention was made of a fund which would be used to provide the payment for employees separated from the various departments and sections of the public service. He would therefore not proceed any further until this had been addressed. This matter was referred to our parent ministry, the Ministry of the Transport and Works; and the Ministry of the Civil Service and again the instruction to proceed with the separations was reiterated.
Financially, the Transport Board is not in a position to continue with the employment of its entire existing complement of employees. It must be noted that the Government of Barbados has subsidized the operations of the Transport Board over the years. However, due to the ongoing economic situation, and in an effort to gain efficiencies, the daily functions of the Board can no longer be allowed to continue as has happened in the past. The result of these changes is an unfortunate situation. To reduce expenditure, some separation of employees must occur; it must be noted that we have sought to meet all of the requirements as detailed and as such we have no alternative but to proceed with the separation of employees.
This information has been shared with the BWU at a meeting held February 28, 2014.
In the separation process, the management of the Transport Board sought to minimize the effect on the employees. As such the National Employment Bureau was invited to speak to employees on retooling and re-engineering to strengthen any skills. The Board also ensured that the following information was included in the separation letter given to employees:-
- The Transport Board will ensure that employees receive the relevant severance payment in accordance with the Severance Payment Act;
- A cheque for an amount representing pay in lieu of notice and holiday (vacation) pay;
- Additionally, by March 6 2014 a further cheque will be issued to any affected staff for any outstanding wages or salaries; and
- Finally, to further mitigate any effects of this separation, the Board is providing emotional and financial counselling and other advice. This is being arranged through the Human Resources Department.
Although the Board will be separating employees, it must be clearly stated that a complete operational plan has been designed which will allow the Transport Board to continue to service its customers. This new operating structure should see the Transport Board operating in a more efficient manner and will form part of the ongoing re-structuring of the organization to bring about further efficiencies. It is intended that this should result in a reduced financial strain on the tax payers of Barbados