The state-run Transport Board will start retrenching some of its 600-strong workforce by month-end. First to go, will be those who received permanent appointments just weeks before the May 24 General Elections.
In making the disclosure this afternoon following a more than two-hour meeting with staff in the board’s recreational room, Chairman Gregory Nicholls an Attorney-at-law told Barbados TODAY that while the statutory corporation is certain to begin with 50 employees, the final numbers have not yet been determined.
It was at that standing-room-only meeting, which saw dozens more spilling out around the perimeter, that Nicholls officially broke the news of major restructuring, layoffs, financial cuts and plans to re-employ as many retrenched workers as possible in other areas of the public transport sector.
He said the restructuring will not only involve job-cuts, but the possible amalgamation of departments and the deployment of technology to create a more efficient, effective and commercially-viable bus service operation.
“The first set of workers will be retrenched by the end of this month. We have already set that process in train. We have spoken to the Chief Labour Officer, we have negotiated with the unions and we have met with management, and we are in that transition now. We are also discussing other ways in which we can make the Transport Board a leaner organization within the context of the budgetary cuts that are coming in the BERT [Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation] programme,” Nicholls added.
He explained that the first batch of workers who will be placed on the breadline were those made permanent a month before the May 24 general election. He said the process leading to their appointment was in breach of the Civil Service Regulations because there was no permission from the Ministry of the Civil Service.
“So in that way, we were able to soften the impact of the first blow…the first wave of the restructuring. There will be more to come and that is what we would have discussed with them today,” he said.
The Transport Board chair told Barbados TODAY the final figure for those being sent home would be determined by a series of factors including what manual work can be replaced by technology.
“A lot of it would be impacted by how well we can infuse technology in terms of fleet management to replace a lot of the work that we do manually. For example, you have people who count cash…we are looking to move cashless, whether by tapping your phone, a card or something to board the buses. People who sell tokens, whether they can be reorganized in a way in which they can sell topup cards or whatever at various sites in our terminals,” the board chairman revealed.
Nicholls said the bus company is also looking to use GPS tracking and introduce Internet and wi-fi on buses as part of restructuring plans.
“So it’s not only the retrenchment of workers, but it is a computerization of the entire rollout of our service…members of the travelling public can visit an app and see where a particular bus is so they can plan whether they need to be at a particular time so they can catch a bus. These have implications downstream for our staff complement, which means we are supporting about seven or eight people per bus. Given the 100 or so buses we have working on the road right now, that staff complement has to be recalibrated,” the Transport Board boss stated.
In giving further insight into the board’s restructuring plans, Nicholls told Barbados TODAY that the United Commercial Autoworks Limited (UCAL) will be getting more work from the corporation.
“UCAL plays a big role in Transport [Board] generally because they are a primary service provider. We have been able to give them a commitment that we will be giving them more work to do. A lot of the work that UCAL was required to do has diminished over the years because we went on and started to bring in staff where Transport Board was building engines, building axle beams and rods. That is not, in our view, the role of a transport board,” he pointed out.
He complained that these people were involved in this “massive” engine-building project costing millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
“So a lot of work was diverted away from UCAL to a number of the private companies in Barbados. We are recalibrating our relationship with UCAL. They have given us their firm commitment that they can, and will, get the job done. And one of the good things about it is that a number of the displaced workers in the Quality Assurance Department, UCAL has indicated that they are more than willing to take on as many of them as possible…So we can soften the impact of the immediate separation of some of the workers who are being retrenched,” Nicholls told Barbados TODAY.
Also wrapped up in its cost-cutting overhaul will be the introduction of electric-powered buses.
“So those solutions are being looked at very vigorously. We have a lot of proposals in for the supply of electric vehicles in our bus fleet. We are monitoring and evaluating them. Quality tests have to be done. We have to reconfigure our entire plant to be able to power the electric supply needs of our buses. And obviously there are revenue gains to be made by the sale of electricity back into the grid by going photovoltaic and so on. All these are being discussed right now,” Nicholls revealed.