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The carpark issue

The carpark issue

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People who have access to the media have a responsibility to readers/listeners/viewers to at least try to ascertain the facts of a matter before making sweeping comments. Unfortunately, this basic principle seems to have been buried in our country today. It seems that all we want is a cue before we take off on a tangent, never mind any sense of balance or objectivity. How sad!{{more}}

From the moment the SVG Chamber of Industry and Commerce put out a shrill statement a few weeks ago, alleging that Government’s decision not to renew the expired lease on the state-owned carparks which the Chamber operated for more than a decade amounted to stifling the “Independent voice of the Private Sector”, there has been a chorus of echoes and condemnation. Now persons are entitled to agree or disagree with the Government’s decision. No problem there! But why the attacks on the new lessees-the National Labour Congress and WINFA, to the extent that some comments even questioned the capacity of those organisations to operate a carpark? Could you believe this? Does it betray the barrenness of the minds of those who hold this view or is it a reflection of the class bias that workers and farmers are incapable of managing anything? I humbly suggest that the evidence proves the contrary. In the decade of operation for instance, the Fairtrade movement has delivered more social benefits to this country than during the 40-plus years of its predecessors. The school bus service is the latest example.

As to the view that Government’s decision not to renew the carpark lease represent’s “a stifling of the independent voice of the private sector”, since when is the voice of an organisation dependent on returns from a carpark operation? The NLC and WINFA have never had the benefit of such state support, not for 12 years, not ever, but we certainly have VOICES on behalf of our members.

Hang heads in shame

The behaviour of certain individuals and the Chamber as a whole in this whole episode brings no credit to the business community. I am sure that when many Chamber members get to understand the depths to which persons, acting in their name, sank, they will hang their heads in shame. First there was the blunt refusal to hold dialogue on the matter, neither with the Government nor with the other social partners. That includes WINFA, a member of the Chamber. Following the blunt rejection of an offer by the Prime Minister himself to host dialogue between all the parties involved, at the request of the NLC and WINFA, I wrote to the President of the Chamber, with copies to The Executive secretary of the Chamber and to the Cabinet Secretary requesting such dialogue.

Issued severance letters

There has not even been an acknowledgement of the letter by the Chamber, and frequent telephone calls to Mr. Steele (the Chamber President) went unanswered, even though we were assured by his office that he had been notified of our efforts to contact him.

Worse, the Chamber waited until the day before was required to vacate the carparks to suddenly issue severance letters to employees of the carpark, workers put out of a job at 24 hours notice! Is this the example of industrial relations the Chamber is setting for its members? Similarly, carpark customers were given the same one-day notice. This, in spite of the Chamber one month before making public statements about its voice being stifled. The lowest point was reached at the end of its last day when Chamber representatives “thrashed” both carparks, trying to render them inoperable.

Increased wages

Fortunately the organisations whose “capacity” was questioned had the Kingstown carpark in operation by the next morning. Attempts were even made to try to get VINLEC to disconnect both carparks, succeeding only at the airport, however. Is that the regard that the business sector has for organisations of workers and farmers? Certainly the Chamber’s treatment of carpark employees is far from exemplary. We discovered that in a profitable operation, workers were paid the absolute minimum wage, significantly increased by the new operators immediately on hiring 10 employees including 7 of those cruelly severed without notice; that the carparks have no toilet facilities for workers; no lunchroom facilities, not even a kettle to get a hot drink. If only those who babble and write loosely would have taken time to find out.

Changes have already been instituted, including a long-overdue clean-up, and plans are in motion for much better service to customers and the general public. A lot of mouths will be hushed and heads hung in shame!

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