The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Tuesday issued a veiled threat that it was prepared to take action to protect the jobs of Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) workers, which it said had been threatened by the new waste collection scheme which went into effect Monday.
Describing the decision by the SSA to outsource some of its garbage collection to private haulers as a sneaky move, the NUPW made it clear it would not sit idly by and allow the SSA to be placed in private hands.
“The union always has the capacity to deal with such matters and when the time comes we have competency that would ensure that our members are not placed at a disadvantaged,” Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond said at a news conference Tuesday, following a meeting with SSA workers at the union’s Dalkeith Road headquarters.
Walrond did not elaborate, but SSA workers have not hesitated in the past to take industrial action to press their case.
A week-long strike in July 2015 in support of employees of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation and the Customs & Excise Department, who had been at odds with Government, resulted in mountains of garbage around the island. One day after that protest ended, they were protesting again over management’s decision to dock their pay for the period for which they were on strike.
Signs that the new scheme had not gone down well with the employees and their union emerged yesterday when the SSA collectors refused to cooperate with the private haulers over concerns about insurance and other terms of the agreement.
At today’s press briefing NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke stopped short of saying Government was planning to privatize the SSA. However, she accused the Freundel Stuart administration of having an ulterior motive, suggesting that a plan had been in place all along to place refuse collection in the hands of the private sector.
“I don’t believe that they [private waster haulers] would have spent the amount of money that they did, and I don’t believe that the private haulers would have bought the number of trucks that they did if there was not a promise that this was going to be a long-term arrangement.
“I don’t think that persons would have expended the type of money on compactor trucks just to work for six months. In the first instance they said six months, then later you heard the Minister of Finance [Chris Sinckler] say for as long as it takes and that could be next two years for all we know,” Burke said.
The private truckers agreed at a meeting last week to service St Philip, St Peter, St Lucy and St John at a rate of $411 per hour for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday.
Burke complained that the union had not been consulted on the matter, which she said could result in hundreds of workers losing their jobs.
“When this programme was conceptualized, the NUPW was not involved in any of the planning or any of the discussion. We believe that if you are going to be hiding – because that’s how we see it – and coming up with a programme like this, it means you don’t want the union involved for a reason.”
The decision to engage the haulers is expected to cost Government over $3 million, money the NUPW suggested could have been better spent on upgrading the facilities at the waste collection agency.
In fact, Burke said the employees had been pleading with the administration for a long time to provide them with proper equipment in order to undertake their functions, but their pleas had been falling on deaf ears.
“Sanitation workers have been deprived of equipment and machinery and even uniforms and protective clothing for a number of years. NUPW would have made representation on their behalf and we believe that if you now have some money to spend on the collection of garbage, the first thing you should do is make the SSA right.
“Over the years they were supposed to bring two trucks into the island every year so that SSA fleet could get up to marks and that has not happened,” the Acting General Secretary lamented.
Just last week, NUPW President Akanni McDowall said the union was adamant there would be “no privatization of the SSA”, while General Secretary Roslyn Smith warned of “a possible displacement” of 800 workers.
“We cannot allow that to happen. Such action would create a burden on the society,” she had warned at the time.