Tuesday, April 23, 2024

EDITORIAL: Govt must make good on UCAL debt


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Within recent months, the issue of the provision of adequate public transportation to effectively meet the needs of the country as it tries to dig itself out of the current economic rut has come in for much debate.

From the retrenchment of more than 200 Transport Board employees, to the unacceptable conduct of too many members of the private sector component of the industry, to the Minister of Transport’s announcement that he wants to see those same private operators fully integrated into the system, to last week’s strike by one of the Transport Board’s key contractors, Barbadians have had much to chew on.

But it was last week’s strike by employees of United Commercial Autoworks Limited (UCAL), who also happen to be company shareholders, that we wish to address. It is not hard to understand why the workers would feel aggrieved by the matters that caused them to take industrial action in the first place.

It certainly can’t be a small financial or mental burden as former workers of the board itself, who after agreement with that state agency, and with the support of the Cabinet, set up UCAL with the clear understanding that they would provide mechanical service under agreed terms and conditions, one of them being that they would be paid.

When a fledgling organisation made up largely of average citizens upholds its end of the bargain but still finds itself being owed more than $20 million, all fair-minded persons should have no difficulty in speaking out. We have not heard the Transport Board’s management or its drivers complain about the quality of the work, so we don’t believe that can be a valid reason for non-payment.

We understand clearly that the board, like just about every other statutory corporation in this country, is under great financial pressure, but if UCAL and its workers continue to be called to keep their end of the bargain, then the Government has to use its good office to ensure they are paid with some degree of regularity.

We applaud Minister of Transport Michael Lashley for his intervention, which no doubt contributed in no small measure to the decision of the workers to return to the job. We also believe that action by the workers was responsible because any prolonged absence from their workshop would have left the Board unable to adequately meet the demands of the travelling public. Even without the strike, that was a tall order.

We hope now that the workers are back on the job, those in authority would not see it as an opportunity to return to the status quo of ignoring the concerns of the mechanics. For all its weaknesses, Barbados has always had a public transport system that has been the envy of many of our neighbours, and this was not achieved by the Transport Board alone. Many other players have made a valuable contribution and to ignore the cries of UCAL is to in effect say that you do not recognise the value of your partners.

We hope therefore in the not-too-distant future to hear Government publicly state how it plans to pay down this massive debt to the men and women of UCAL.


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