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STREET BEAT: The good, the bad of building


Carlos Atwell

STREET BEAT: The good, the bad of building

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There is a hidden side to the construction industry many do not know about.

Those not in the know can make judgements when they see projects taking a long time or workmen seemingly lazing on the job, but all is not often what it seems and this week, Street Beat is taking a look at both the dark and light sides of construction.

Two subcontractors filled the team in on a little of what goes on behind the scenes, although not all they said could be printed. Their identities shall remain anonymous so their future livelihoods are not jeopardised.

“Contractors often use subcontractors to cover themselves,” one said.

“We are not covered under the insurance and are the last to be paid. The problem we get in Barbados is that the recession is being used as a plaster. In previous times a subcontractor would bid for a job and offer a work rate but now you are being told they can’t afford to pay us on time as they too are not certain if they will get paid on time.”  

The subcontractor said it had got to the point where there was now a string-along effect where they were continually in a waiting mode.

“We work according to pay which most of the time is not fair so it comes to the point where the man on the bottom has to wait on the man above. There are established businesses which can’t afford to pay on time so you have to wait until they do their payroll, be it weekly or monthly but you can’t bite the hand that feeds you, you can’t bicker when it may be those same people who may give you more work later on,” he said.

The other subcontractor said the practice of undercutting was out of control. A subcontractor could no longer afford to set his prices fairly as there was always someone out there willing to do the job for less, he said.

“We get work as it comes but not as often as I would like. Also, say if I charge $10 000 for a job then the boss man would call ten different companies to see what they offering and they got people who would charge $5 000. In Barbados, you find a lot of undercutting and it is all over.”  

The businessman also said the progress of some jobs was in direct correlation to cash flow but not in the way one might think.

“It is not always that you run out of money to finish a job. What can happen is that if we build too fast, the boss would tell us to slow down because he is spending too much money. Plus, if we get the job done early, the owner may feel they getting rob,” he said.

The men said it was often a struggle to get the required tools to get the job done as the contractors did not want to spend the necessary money for them to do the job right.

On a separate site, labourer Michael Joseph complained about the amount of money people in the construction industry were paid.

“There are a lot of people in big offices who are not doing much and getting big money and people here who are pushing Barbados forward are not getting satisfactory pay. I do some mason work and a lot of different things but I don’t get satisfactory money,” he said.

Rather than continuing to dwell on the cons of the industry, it is time to take a personal look at why some of the skilled workers in Barbados do what they do. Merv, as he identified himself as, has been a carpenter for about 15 years and said he could barely imagine doing anything else.

“To tell the truth, if I could born over and do it all again, I would still be a carpenter. There is so much you can do with wood, it is live (as in lively) and I love woodwork,” he said.

Merv said his profession was one he would love his son to take up one day and would recommend it to any youth as he said having a skill was very important.

“When you ain’t got a skill, it is tough. If not for this, I don’t know what I would be doing in Barbados,” he said.

Kenar Gibbons is a mason, something he learned from his father and fell in love with. He said the hardest part of his job was plastering walls but he liked the flexibility involved. He said masonry required discipline, hard work and sacrifice but he too would recommend it to anyone.

On a third site, a general labourer, Alex Jones and a carpenter, “Yearwood” spoke about their lives.

“Yearwood” has been a carpenter since 1996 and said it was the only job he liked. He said it gave him joy to sit back and look at a finished building and know he had something to do with it. He cited his greatest accomplishments as working on the Grantley Adams International Airport and the United States Embassy.

As for Jones, he said labour work was just something to do and he had no particular love of it but after four years, it was a part of him. He said the best thing about construction was the bonds made with other workers.

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