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IT MATTERS TO MARIA: Former workers claim breach of contract

Maria Bradshaw

IT MATTERS TO MARIA: Former workers claim breach of contract

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LAST WEEK marked a year since 54 workers were terminated from the Beautify Barbados project during Government’s retrenchment programme.

However, some of the former employees who under contract, are claiming that the arrangement was breached over several years and they believe that Government is still obligated to rectify that situation even though they have been made redundant.

During an interview with five of the workers, including former shop steward Mignell Cadogan, they said that their contracts were unilaterally changed.

They claim that they never received four weeks’ vacation after five years tenure as is set down for all employees in the Public Service Act and that the 20 per cent gratuity which they received for the first two years was cut to ten per cent.

Cadogan explained that when the project first started in 1999 they were getting 20 per cent gratuity payment, which she said was the rate for all Government contract workers.

“Two years later it was cut to ten per cent and no one would give us an explanation why,” she complained.

She said over the years, the workers who were responsible for debushing and cleaning the street along the ABC Highway, were upset about this situation but were afraid to speak out because they feared that their contracts would not be renewed.

However, she explained that in 2011 when some formally joined the National Union of Public Workers’ they began querying the two situations.

“We understand that a senior official recommended that our gratuity be cut. It was not taken to Cabinet; it was not done in the House of Assembly. We understand it was done behind closed doors,” she charged.

She recalled that in 2012 they had a meeting with a permanent secretary who had checked out the status of the gratuity payment.

“She told us that she had not come across anything indicating that Government had recommended that this money be cut. She told us that if Government was going to cut the gratuity for contract workers it would have been cut across the board.”

In terms of the vacation issue, Cadogan said back in 2007 they were told by management at a meeting that they would also start to get the four weeks’ vacation. However, this never materialised.

   “When we got our vacation letter it was still three weeks,” she pointed out.

   Since being retrenched the workers have been in discussion with the NUPW.

   Cadogan said the last thing they were told was that both matters had been referred to the solicitor general for a legal opinion.

   “We want somebody to say something to us. We don’t know who is at fault. We don’t know who are the persons that get together and decide to discriminate against us because if all the other Government contract workers gets 20 per cent, why Beautify Barbados workers was only getting ten per cent?

“It seems as though the union’s hands are tied but if somebody in authority, some lawyer who would see this and see that we are within our rights and would reach out to us because we want what is legally ours.”

She said the majority of the 54 workers worked with Beautify Barbados for 15 years. “We worked very hard in the sun and the rain. We had to remove dead animals, animal stool, everything and we never received hazard pay. But if we working under the same rules as the entire Civil Service then we should be treated fairly and equally.”

We were unable to reach Solicitor General Jennifer Edwards who was said to be at a seminar yesterday.

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