Hon Vincent O. Wheatley shocked at disrespectful behaviour; Said it will not end there
Calling it a troubling situation which makes him wonder what kind of country we are living in and building, Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Honourable Vincent O. Wheatley recounted in the House of Assembly on June 8, 2020, an incident where he was disrespected by a manager of a business in the Territory.
Speaking under ‘Public Business’ at the Eighth Sitting of the Second Session of the Fourth House of Assembly (HoA) at the Save the Seed Energy Centre in Duff's Bottom, Tortola, Hon Wheatley said as the Minister responsible for labour he gets lots of complaints from employees and employers but he likes to get both sides of the story before he even acts.
That is why he said he has told his [labour] department to do spot checks on businesses and such a situation came up a few days ago.
“So I just decided to give it a little dry run. So I had some complaints where I decided to go to this property unannounced.
“Mr Speaker, when I got there I was appalled. Made me wonder what century I was in, what country I was in, the way the whole situation was.”
He said he called the manager of the business but he did not answer the phone and he also “Whatsapped” the same manager but his messages were not returned.
‘It was like going on to a plantation’
“When I got there it was like going on to a plantation. The gates were locked and his employees were outside and I asked them what you all doing” and they responded they were there to collect some documents “and the security was there giving the documents, you can’t even go inside, you can’t even go on to the property.”
Hon Wheatley said he was not going to stand outside any fence as if he was visiting a zoo and told the security who he was and that he wanted to see the manager.
“So I went on to the property and told him [security] let the manager know I am here. I guess he went and told the manager I was there.
‘The level of disrespect’
“And I waited a little bit and I realised the manager had no intention of entertaining me.”
He said he was then told by the Labour Commissioner, who was there also, to go upstairs and knock, but he declined to do so saying “no, this is a minister of Government at your place of business in the BVI, I shouldn’t be begging you to see you. So I left the property.”
Minister Wheatley stated that the manager eventually sent an email “totally discounting” the fact that he had visited the place of business.
“I say well this is something else, the level of disrespect. I mean, I don’t understand what certain people think about in this country. We work together with investors and employees and whoever, but you cannot be in here as an investor and think you can do what you want because we need you? And we’re not going to survive without your presence?” Minister Wheatley said, adding that he didn’t think that was a good attitude to have doing business in the Virgin Islands.
Totally unacceptable; ‘Imagine poor employees’
“And it’s not going to end there, I can assure you of that, but the level of disrespect that an investor would show a Minister of Government… I find that totally, totally, unacceptable. And I will be dealing with this matter because you’re still in this country and you intend to do business in this country and I think if you’re going to be in this country and doing business in this country, at least show respect,” he said.
Minister Wheatley also expressed concern about the welfare of the employees adding, “If you’re going to disrespect me a Minister, an elected representative, I could imagine the poor employees.”
The Minister stated that he is happy that he had an opportunity to witness the hostility first hand since many of the complaints received by his department tend to be false.
“Yes it was unannounced but you know I was there. I went to two businesses. I went to another business, unannounced, the manager wasn’t there. They told the manager I was there. He came out in a breath. Wherever he was he drove and came there. He heard the Minister was there just to visit the place and see what is going on.”
He said they then had a discussion on how the business was managing during COVID-19 and his plans for his employees as well as steps taken to keep the business afloat.
He said the manager even offered to introduce the Minister to his staff and took him to see each staff.
“That is what you call respect. That is true partnership. Yes, I was unannounced, I respect that I was unannounced, but I am still an elected member and a minister of Government and that should count for something Mr Speaker.
“But the blatant disrespect of some people in this 21st century in the British Virgin Islands. I would never dream this would happen in the BVI,” Hon Wheatley said, adding that he has heard Members in the House of Assembly speak of such issues but he never thought he would have experienced it firsthand.
“This is an eye-opener for me, Mr Speaker. I have to really rethink how we go about doing business in this country.”
He added that even the Commissioner of Labour was shocked. “That means she had never seen that kind of behaviour either.
“As a matter of fact, the labour violations that this person is currently doing, Mr Speaker, I don’t know what to even say. And that was last Thursday, almost a week later, and I am still upset as I was then to experience that.”
Belongers being shown the door first!
Hon Wheatley said, nevertheless, there are some good employers in the Territory who mean well for their staff and have been assisting them in many ways, including by giving interest-free loans and shopping vouchers.
‘But then they got a next set, they using this COVID to abuse their workers and sometimes they are choosing the Belongers first, to abuse.”
The Minister said the Territory has survived many hardships, including Hurricane Irma in 2017, and does not need persons to think they cannot survive without them.
“I know where we come from…sardine and soda crackers aint no trouble to me, so if they think that without their presence here we’re going to go hungry and die, therefore we should just take whatever they dish out, whatever abuse they want to dish out here, that we will take it. Well no, that is the wrong set you’re dealing with, to say the least.
“I am not prepared in the least, to tolerate an abusive situation in this country under a pandemic.”