Transparency Required with award of GAIA Contract

Kemar J.D Stuart, Director Business Development , Finance and Investment Stuart & Perkins Caribbean

The government of Barbados has planned a lease and awarding of a $300M contract to an unknown company to run the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) in Barbados  for up to 30 years. The winner of the  $300 M contract to lease the airport would be granted a concession or lease to expand, operate and maintain the airport until the end of the contractual period of 30 years. Up until release of this article  the company’s identity remains unknown to date June 8th 2023,

There should be nothing to hide when handling an important government asset such as the airport, however the government of Barbados keeps falling down on transparency and the fight against corruption. I relied on international sources to get information on this contract and that is unacceptable. The  Barbados government can be cited as withholding information as no updates on the status of the tendering process can be obtained locally.

In February 2021 GAIA project coordinator, Gale Yearwood speaking in an interview with BNamericas confirmed a delay to the airport’s planned privatization. Yearwood reported that, “the government of Barbados, GAIA Inc. and its advisers took the decision to review the transaction to ensure that it meets the needs of and remains attractive to the shortlisted bidders, government, GAIA Inc”. International media reports indicate  and can be quoted as saying that the Barbados government has not since July 2021 updated the status of its tendering process in regards to the leasing of the GAIA airport. Greater accountability is required on the $300M airport contract.

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EZ to Pay Driver’s License Renewal: Happenings @GAIA

BU tries to keep an eye on all developments occurring in the country. On this note the government must be complemented for maintaining an active GIS news presence on its portal and Facebook. Of interest to Barbadians is the news a driver’s license can now be renewed remotely. This follows the use of technology to improve the quick turnaround of certificates of character.

There was also the news “thirteen companies or consortia with significant experience in the aviation sector have received the go-ahead to bid on the operation, financing, development and maintenance of the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA)“.

See link to GIS portal for details.

We look forward to the rollout of improvements to obsolete processes gathering momentum in the weeks and months to come.

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Stalled @GAIA

I frequently wonder if those who guide our tourism industry really understand the basics which make it work, at all. Arriving on schedule at 9.45 pm the American Airlines flight last Monday, we dutifully filed off the plane and took our place in the queue for immigration.

The flight was close to full, so on a B737 Max 8, this amounted to around 172 passengers plus crew. Just after 10 pm, one or more immigration officers simply left their post and went off duty, leaving a skeleton staff to process the remaining 50 per cent or so off this flight.

This flight was not a one-off charter, but a scheduled service, where all involved know that it is going to arrive daily at close to the advertised time.

When my turn eventually came, I respectfully asked the immigration officer if there had been a shift change at 10 pm and she stated yes, adding that at least some of those finishing their term duty had to get a bus.

Not at all unreasonable in my humble opinion given the knowledge that if you miss one bus there may not necessarily be a later option to ensure they get home. But surely this is a critical consideration for management, who have to ensure the ‘system’ works, given the available resources?

With the hundred or so remaining passengers still waiting to clear immigration there is plenty of time to gaze in wonderment at the rows of still idle Automated Passport Kiosks. The actual cost of installing and possibly maintaining these machines still remains a mystery to the taxpayer and we cannot blame the current administration. However, the decision to purchase or lease them and the subsequent dismal failure to ensure they are fully operational must be somebodies responsibility.

Nearly four months ago the current Minister of Tourism was quoted in the media as stating ‘the effect as I understand it is that there should be an 88 per cent faster throughput in the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), once this is implemented, than there is at present’.

A very impressive improvement in anyone’s estimation should this prediction, become a working reality.

Another factor, often ignored, is that the majority of our visitors do not live on the doorsteps of the airports which service us.

In my case last week, I left a sleepy Essex village at 5 am with three changes of train and underground, involving nearly 40 station stops to first reach Heathrow. Then a ten hour flight to Miami followed by the much improved passenger processing through US immigration and customs, before another 4 hour flight to reach Barbados, So nearly 24 hours before deplaning at GAIA.

While this may not be typical for many of our visitors, the vast majority have substantial pre-airport travelling and the last thing they want to endure, especially at night, is to be further delayed at immigration, baggage claim and customs checks.

It already seems to take an extraordinary amount of time to retrieve arriving checked baggage and with the ongoing closure of the customs Green Channel – ‘Nothing to Declare’ option, our cherished guests are being subjected to further delays.

Let us hope that these long running challenges will be fully remedied before the upcoming peak winter season, especially in light of announced increased airlift.

Otherwise even the most patient visitors may be tempted with their feet and perhaps next time, choose an alternative less hassle destination.

GAIA NUPW Mystery

NUPW Strike

NUPW Strike

The NUPW – representing public sector workers – is expected to play an important role in the civil society of Barbados. This is a heightened expectation given the current state of affairs. It is therefore important that it represents itself as a professional outfit, there is simply too much at stake.

The disagreement which surfaced this week between the General Secretary of the NUPW Roslyn Smith and the President Akanni McDowall does not bode well for a well managed industrial climate if we are to believe the two represent a significant section of NUPW’s leadership.

Here is the letter Roslyn Smith is purported to have written without the approval of President McDowall or the National Council. BU notes the letterhead bears the names of former president Walter Maloney and Dennis Clarke. It should be a matter of priority for the McDowall and Smith to quickly resolve this matter because we fear those who stand to benefit will take advantage to the disadvantage of the workers.

nupw proposal_Page_1 nupw proposal_Page_2 nupw proposal_Page_3

The Caswell Franklyn Column – No Role for Minister in GAIA War

caswellTHE SATURDAY SUN of March 12, 2016 informed readers that the Minister of Labour, Senator Dr Esther Byer Suckoo, had ruled in favour of the Grantley Adams International Airport Inc. (GAIA Inc.) in its dispute with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), over the 3.5 per cent wage increase for workers dated back to 2010.

As an industrial relations practitioner, that news came as a complete shock since that ruling has overturned everything that I was taught and practised over the years. At this stage, without going into the merits of the case for either side, I would like to review the comedy of errors that culminated with the Minister acting as a conciliator and giving a ruling.

The disputing parties met, negotiations broke down; and the employer, in an attempt to forestall threatened industrial action, referred the matter to the Chief Labour Officer. In industrial relations, conciliation is a process where the parties to a dispute utilise the services of a neutral third party to assist them in coming to an amicable settlement. That basic definition by itself should have ruled out the minister as a conciliator.

The statement by GAIA Inc. published in the SUNDAY SUN of February 14, 2016 revealed that the matter of an increase of wages and salaries for GAIA Inc’s workers was referred to Cabinet for final approval, and that they instructed the company in December 2010 that there should be no increase in wages and salaries. Dr Byer-Suckoo was then and continues to be a member of the Cabinet.

Even if she had given the most profound ruling, there would always be those among us would be suspicious of her actions. The oft-quoted maxim by Lord Chief Justice Hewart could not be more apt in these circumstances: “Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.

The Minister cannot be seen as an independent third party. First, she is bound by the constitutional convention of collective responsibility to publicly support all decisions made in Cabinet. Additionally, she is an unelected parliamentarian who serves in the Senate at the pleasure of the Prime Minister and she would not be expected to overrule the alleged agreement made when the PM chaired a meeting with the disputing parties on December 28, 2010.

I contend that there is no role for the Minister of Labour or the Prime Minister to be a conciliator in labour disputes. That practice crept into our local industrial relations when a union found itself out on a limb and needed someone to help it climb down. In order to save face, the union could and did say that it changed its position out of respect for the Prime Minister. That worked so well that it has continually been used to thwart the demands and legitimate expectations of workers.

That aside, in this case, how did the Minister start out as a conciliator and end up giving a ruling as though she was an arbitrator? A conciliator does not make a ruling. A person in that capacity is only required to assist the parties in reaching an amicable settlement. (If we are to judge by the reaction of the president of the NUPW, the settlement was anything but amicable). On the other hand, an arbitrator listens to the evidence and comes to a conclusion in much the same way as a judge.

If the parties were interested in binding arbitration, there is a piece of little known legislation, the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Enquiry) Act, that would not involve the Minister. That act at section 3 requires either of the parties to a dispute to report the matter to the Governor General, who would appoint an arbitrator to decide the matter, if the other side agrees.

The other troubling aspect of this sorry spectacle is that the union’s delegation seems to have been led by the president, who is not required to know anything about industrial relations. The rules of that union assign a very limited role to its president. According to Rule 11, the president shall ordinarily preside at meetings, sign cheques and other negotiable instruments in conjunction with the treasurer and as part of the Executive Committee superintend the general affairs of the union in conjunction with the general secretary.

It seems in this dispute that everyone is doing his/her own thing and only the workers suffer. Students of industrial relations must carefully review the actions taken in this dispute, and when they have done so; they would know how not to prosecute a grievance on behalf of workers.

Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: caswellf@hotmail.com

The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Suspension, Extinction or What?

Jeff Cumberbatch - New Chairman of the FTC

Jeff Cumberbatch – New Chairman of the FTC

“People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all that they get…” Frederick Douglass

The Barbadian industrial relations culture is relatively unsophisticated. Here, there is no formalized process of the recognition of a workers’ organization as the certified agent of a bargaining unit, an issue that that has arisen on at least two occasions in recent times; there is no industrial tribunal or court to resolve rights disputes according to law; the collective agreement does not create a binding legal relation; and while there has been an attempt to preempt these and other issues by the establishment of a form of social partnership comprising representatives of labour, government and the private sector, there is at least some dispute as to whether this arrangement is as functional as it should be. At the same time, there is no essential services legislation.

Hence, industrial disputes are generally resolved by “force of industrial arms” and prime ministerial mediation rather than by judicial reasoning, even if the issue is one that cries out for a legal resolution. Of course, there may be nothing wrong with this method once all sides are on board with it, but my training compels me to see the legal recourse as the more effective option, especially where the issue is essentially one of legal principle.

Take, for instance, the on-going dispute between the local public sector union, the National Union of Public Workers and GAIA Inc., the concern that manages the island’s lone airport. From what I can gather, this dispute, which has already engendered one round of protest action, and some perfunctory “sabre rattling” from both sides of the divide, involves the deceptively simple issue of whether the workers are entitled to a further 3.5% as part of an overall 7.5% wage increase that had been agreed to between the parties in 2010. I say “deceptively simple” here, because, as I will argue later, the legal issues are indeed rather complex.

As is usual in these matters, those facts that are in the public domain are regrettably vague, but it seems that after this seven point five percent increase was agreed, and four percent of it had been paid to workers, there was an official directive that there should be no further increases in wages at that time owing to the existing economic climate. It is also reported that the NUPW initially objected to this but, at a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in late December 2010, a “compromise” was reached between the parties. This understanding appears to have entailed that the outstanding 3.5% would be “taken off the table” (the quotation marks are not meant to indicate that these were the actual words used). It is alleged, in addition, that the workers at a meeting in early January 2011 endorsed this compromise. That endorsement was communicated to the relevant parties in writing.

NUPW_file_copyHowever, according to the NUPW, that same correspondence included a condition that “should the economy improve” between then and June of that same year, the union would want “to revisit the moratorium placed on year 2011 increases”. It appears to be a bone of contention whether this condition subsequent as to an improvement in the economy was ever fulfilled.

It is, for me, a pity that this dispute will not be resolved in a legal forum, mainly because it does present some intriguing legal issues. For one, would the initial promise by NUPW to forgo the 3.5% be contractually binding, given that the other side had supplied no consideration for this promise? Or should it be treated rather as a waiver extinctive of the rights of the workers?

For another, what is the effect of the subsequently notified condition that this concession was to be read subject to there being no improvement in the economy in the next six months? Did this effect a mere suspension of the workers’ rights or was it an unseasonable (too late) qualification of their original concession? Had it been stated from the outset of the compromise?

Finally, if the condition was applicable, was there indeed a measurable improvement in the economy during the stipulated period? Or is that stipulation too vague to be legally enforceable? Would it now be inequitable for the NUPW to assert its claim to the 3.5%?

While such issues would clearly be matters for urgent consideration in the industrial courts of Trinidad & Tobago or Antigua & Barbuda or in the Industrial Disputes Tribunal of Jamaica, they will have to be resolved here eventually on the uncertain basis of apparent moral legitimacy and perceived right. Unfortunately, in Barbados, that frequently translates at the populist level into the partisan political agenda with opinion evenly divided between the views of those in support of the apparent position of the governing administration and those opposed thereto. This is almost laughable, especially in a circumstance where the dispute is between two independent entities…but that is the way it is. As I have noted on more occasions than a few prior, we subsist in a theatre of the absurd.

As it is, the current dispute is situated in the heart of the main port of entry in the middle of the tourist season -the lifeblood of our economy. Ordinarily, this should concentrate the national mind to immediate action, but not here. It will work itself out in the end, I can hear. It always does.