By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
A FRUSTRATED Bahamas Power and Light employee has complained about staff being told they have to return to their home island of Abaco, where conditions are not suitable.
After the 2019 monster storm, several BPL staff members located in Abaco suffered serious loss and were allowed to work out of Nassau. Two years after the storm, they say BPL is not showing empathy towards them as they are being forced to go back to a place where they have nowhere to live.
“I am a BPL employee, one who was affected by Hurricane Dorian,” the BPL employee said. “There are not many of us here in Nassau but a few that remain are unable to clock in at BPL’s main office because our key cards were removed from the BPL system.
“We have been sent home without pay and were told by (an executive) to use vacation and or sick days to be compensated for the days missed because of our failure to return to Abaco. If we fail to use our leisure days we would have fired ourselves for not showing up to work for more than five days,” the worker alleged.
A little over a week ago, members of the Bahamas Electrical Workers Union, headed by Kyle Wilson, walked off the job for a few hours citing BPL for several alleged violations of its industrial agreement. The union also accused management of inhumane treatment of staff, including causing staff on remote islands to defecate in bushes due to lack of proper facilities. The displaced Abaco staff members being asked to return to that island was also an issue of contention.
In a statement responding to allegations made during the walkout, BPL said the following about the displaced staffers: “Following the passing of Hurricane Dorian, BPL was the first to provide private air services for the evacuation of employees who wanted to leave Abaco and their families. The employees were temporarily assigned throughout the operations in New Providence and to a lesser degree, the Family Islands, with the understanding that they were expected to return as needed in Abaco.
“In September 2020, the employees of Abaco that remained in New Providence were advised of the need for them to return to their duties in Abaco on November 1, 2020. “Following a request from the employees and their union representatives to have employees remain until April 30, 2021, employees were advised to return to Abaco on June 1, 2021.”
The female Abaco employee took exception to that portion of the statement as it was personal to her and the others from that island.
“As for the comments (from BPL), there was no plane sent by BPL for any employee. When the plane arrived in Abaco it was not even enough room, it was maybe an eight seat plane,” she said. “One of the ladies lived on a cay and her husband was severely injured in the storm. He had to remain on the cay for more than two days before he was airlifted as his hands were nearly amputated.
“The few employees that do remain, keep in mind we do not have anywhere to live in Abaco and cannot afford the rent on our salaries alone as many of us are still the only steady working person in their respective families.
“Human resources never met with us to discuss our situation nor did management,” the worker alleged. “There was no sit down with HR or any management. We were just told to go to Abaco point blank after countless letters to (an official) in human resources for a meeting to discuss our matter; there were never any answers.”
The BPL employee explained that the situation her colleagues find themselves in makes it impossible for them to return to Abaco now.
“One lady asked for an extension while her house is being finished as she is paying out of pocket and her husband just managed to secure a job in Nassau to help with repairs,” she said. “Another female has requested a transfer to Eleuthera where her family has relocated with another family member, but they refused her request to be with her family and told her to go back to Abaco alone.
“One of the ladies is pregnant and is on maternity leave. There is another female involved, but we do not know her status. As you can see we are all females being forced to return to a place where we have nowhere to live and alone. All of us are married and want to be where our families are.
“They are trying to take away our livelihood because we refuse to put ourselves in a bad position without any compromise. They haven’t even offered to help with any expenses except one week’s pay to move, which is not very much money to relocate.”
In response to inquiries from The Tribune on the allegations, a BPL official said: “BPL does not comment on employees’ personal working conditions outside of extraordinary circumstances. As such, we have no comment.”
Last week, the BEWU gave BPL 14 days to resolve all outstanding matters or face the wrath of the union.