The Shipping Association of Barbados is already raising the red flag that a number of jobs could be on the chopping block in another two years as a result of Government’s move to have the Bridgetown Port carry out some services in-house.
However, while indicating that it was not Government’s intention to put anyone out of a job, port officials pointed to the necessity of the Bridgetown Port to make some changes to contracts in order to make the operations there “more efficient at a lower cost”.
Following the Barbados Labour Party’s win in the May 2018 general election, the Mia Mottley-led administration started to review a number of the contracts that various government agencies and departments had with private individuals and entities with a view to cutting costs.
It is not clear how much Barbados Government is paying out annually as a result of the contract between the Shipping Association of Barbados and the Bridgetown Port. However, the association members, made up of ships’ agents and stevedore companies, offer a range of specialised services, shipping agency services and stevedoring services.
Following a review of the contracts of the Bridgetown Port, a new three-year contract was negotiated and put into place last year and will come to an end sometime in 2022 The association’s concerns were repeated yesterday during the 2020/2021 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure discussions for the Ministry of Maritime and Blue Economy,.
Chair of Committee, Dr Sonia Browne said the association was concerned that after four decades of working with the Bridgetown Port some of its members’ contracts may not be renewed. This, she said, could impact the continued hiring of their staff members.
“There are fears about their usefulness and them having to let go of staff,” said Browne. But Chief Executive Officer of the Bridgetown Port David Jean-Marie told Parliament, which is being temporarily held at the Worthing Corporate Centre, that “life has changed and things have changed and it has been determined by the board that those services should be provided, and can be provided by the port”.
“So it is not that the shipping association will have no role. It is just that it won’t be operating the stevedore in Barbados at the Barbados Port. They will still be agents for the vessels, that is the current thinking,” said Jean-Marie.
He said: “The port staff actually does the stevedoring work on board the vessels as it stands and the insurance arrangements are in place. So there is not going to be any difficulty in the transition. We understand the challenge that they may have. The Prime Minister invited them to consider new business, new ways to operate within the Port and we are still awaiting that discussion so that we can go forward.”
In further justifying the change in arrangements, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey said after reviewing the contracts at the Port it was determined that the port itself could take on some additional responsibilities and generate more revenues.
“As it relates to the persons who may potentially be displaced, we felt that as the port takes on responsibilities they are still going to need people to be able to do it, some of these people will naturally be re-absorbed back into the port,” he said.
Humphrey, whose ministry is earmarked to receive a total of $20.6 million for the financial year 2020/2021, said he believed as the nature of the job shifted for the association members the amount of work could very well remain the same.
According to Humphrey, “I think the conversation has to be around what is the best fit for the Government and what is the best fit for the country. I think anyone looking on from a business point of view would want to see that the Port is doing what it is doing at its most efficient. I think what we have tried to do by giving the people who are in the stevedoring business three years . . . is to start making the adjustments and seeking other areas of potential revenue, finding other opportunities to partner with the very same government to do other things as well.”
“None of us wants to send home anybody at the end of the day,” said Humphrey, adding that the port was “very considerate” in how it went about the situation.