Confusion over whether former workers qualify for severance

stories by Kareem Smith

Former data entry clerks at the Immigration Department who were sent home more than a year ago say they are being denied severance payments, gratuity, and/or any form of compensation after more than 15 years of service to the Government.

The group of 15 workers who were brought in to perform clerical duties, which included filing Embarkation and Disembarkation (ED) immigration forms, became casualties of a new automated system of recording arrivals at the Grantley Adams International Airport which made their jobs virtually redundant.

After much speculation, the workers were informed on October 2, 2019, that their services were no longer required but that they would be called back into work if the need arose.

Months passed and after receiving no word, they inquired about their monetary entitlements, only to be informed that, after 20 years of service in some cases, they were not employees but mere “contract workers” and therefore not entitled to severance pay.

“The [Personnel Administration Department] told us we weren’t employed from their end so they couldn’t do anything about it and a lady from the Labour Department told us she would have looked into the matter, but never got back to us,” revealed former worker Charlene Ward.

“I don’t understand, because [National Insurance Scheme] NIS and PAYE were being taken out of our money and we would always get job letters describing us as employees of the Immigration Department and we even got vacation papers like what a temporary government employee would get,” she added.

Since 2016, the workers have been seeking further information on their employment status and in a letter to the Permanent Secretary, they complained that up to 2007, they were denied paid vacation leave.

“We were told that we are to work as regular public servants but still not entitled to the benefits they receive, e.g. not getting paid for sick days (we are supposed to be entitled to 14). For those of us at the airport, we work bank holidays and don’t receive any extra pay or days in lieu,” they wrote in the letter.

Since being laid off, the workers have sought representation from lawyers, trade union leaders, and even Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley, seemingly to no avail.

In a January 2020 letter to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, sent on behalf of nine of the workers, General Secretary of the Unity Worker’s Union (UWU) Senator Caswell Franklyn contended that if the workers were not entitled to compensation due to their status as contract workers, they must be paid a contract gratuity in accordance with the Genera6, or compensation under the Casual Employees Pensions Act.

According to Franklyn, the matter of their redundancy was brought to the attention of the then Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson who, in his opinion, did not provide an acceptable response.

“It would appear that [Hinkson] prefers an unnecessary court battle. I am hoping that you [the Prime Minister] would recognise that these workers have a legitimate claim for compensation and take steps to pay them,” the union leader implored.

Since then, Hinkson has moved on from the Home Affairs office and has been replaced by Wilfred Abrahams.

When contacted, Hinkson told Barbados TODAY the matter ought to be referred to the current Minister.

Efforts to reach Minister Abrahams have been unsuccessful, and numerous calls to Press Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, Roy Morris went unanswered.

In the meantime, former workers have been struggling to make ends meet in an economic climate that is extremely difficult for job seekers.

For Ward, a 35-year-old with two young children, her job at the Immigration Department over the last 16 years is the only occupation she has ever known.

Even more ironic, in her opinion, is the priority being given to private sector hotel workers in tourism, while the Government seems to be neglecting them.

“If everybody else is coming forward and getting their money, then what about us, the Immigration workers who actually worked for the Government?” she asked.

“Last time I checked, the Immigration Department is a part of tourism. Why are you dealing with one half and not the other?” ([email protected])

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