NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) has demanded that government make alternative arrangements for dozens of post office employees who have been forced to continue working at the condemned General Post Office building on East Hill Street.
The demand comes after government’s decision to push back the date for relocation, once again.
Last week, transport minister Renward Wells told the media the post office move to Town Centre Mall will now happen in February; two months after the original relocation date.
BPSU president Kimsley Ferguson said he questions why government would push back the relocation of the main post office building to February without consulting the union.
Ferguson asserted that the decision is questionable, especially considering that workers in that building continue to have health challenges.
“People are still working in an environment which is affecting their health and as far as I am concerned, there should have been some alternate arrangements initially, even though that [the move] was taking place,” Ferguson said.
“Let us say that a number of persons come out of this building and move into the new one and end up with respiratory issues as a result of being in this building. Who is going to foot the expenses for those particular persons?
“While it might not be something that has an immediate effect on individuals, it’s going to have an effect at some point and who will address those concerns?”
Ferguson said the building is still infested with rats and mold.
“Mold is still an issue. Every time I walk in the building my eyes begin to bulge and I begin to feel particles going into my nostrils, so I try not to spend very long in this building. I come to check on the staff and I leave,” he said.
The BPSU president also questioned the integrity of the ministry of the environment’s mold report and called for an independent assessment to be conducted.
“We are asking for government to hire an independent mold inspector so that both reports can be compared and we can come up with what is actually true to ensure that if there is an urgency to have persons moved from an environment, based on the reports that are given, the government can do so,” Ferguson asserted.
Linda Watkins, post office employee, said her health has deteriorated since she started working almost two years ago.
“When you touch the [mail] bags, your skin breaks out. They told us they would move us to Shirley Street but then they said we had to come back here to get the mail sorted out,” Watkins said.
The post office has been plagued with issues for several years.
The government has entered into a five-year leasehold agreement with the landlord of the Town Centre Mall at a concessionary rate of $12 per square foot.
The move will involve the relocation of all functions of the general post office, pending the construction of a new general post office by the government by way of a private public partnership.
The proposed move of the General Post Office came with much controversy as the mall is partially owned by Brent Symonnette, a sitting Cabinet Minister. Symonette, however, has since declared his shares in the Town Centre Mall.
Symonette told parliamentarians last October that he has 81 shares; and his wife, he said, has one share. Dion Dean, Laura Smith and Randy Smith has one share and BHRSC Holdings Limited has 9,610 shares out of 10,000.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis defended the government’s decision to lease the Town Centre Mall. Back in October, when the lease deal sparked much public criticism about the move being a clear conflict of interest, Minnis told parliamentarians in the House of Assembly that the move was not against the law as Symonette had declared his shares.
He also revealed that the Constitution allows for a member of parliament to hold a contract with the government.
Four Free National Movement Members of Parliament — Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller; Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson; Pineridge MP Fredrick McAlpine and Centerville MP Reece Chipman — joined the four opposition members in voting against the resolution moved in Parliament to relocate the post office to the Town Centre Mall.
The government plans to lease the Town Center Mall for more than $900,000.