Everyone in Barbados should breathe a sigh of relief now that a pay agreement between the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) and the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) has been reached.
The reluctance of sanitation workers not to work over the coming holiday weekends without overtime, threatened to turn the Yuletide mood into a stinky one.
With both limited staff and trucks, it would have been impossible for the SSA to adequately clear highways and byways of the expected larger mounds of garbage.
Following a meeting between the authority’s management, Minister of Labour Colin Jordan and NUPW officials, it was agreed that overtime would be paid to SSA workers for the next three weekends.
But while chairman Rudy Grant had stated that the state-run waste management agency was not in a position to pay overtime, that figure most likely would pale in comparison to what private waste haulers would have charged.
Indeed, it is not even known if the private operators would have agreed to collect garbage for Government, as on more than one occasion they aired their discontent at not being paid for their services.
And with the tourist season kicking into high gear, the fact that our economy is ailing — as well as the fact that there are increased taxes and levies being borne by visitors — we can ill afford a pileup of garbage around our South and West Coasts.
And in the wake of the highly publicized and protracted South Coast sewage problems, yet another health hazard grabbing international press and social media attention is the last thing we need right now.
While an upgraded fleet of SSA garbage trucks has been promised by Minister of the Environment and National Beautification Trevor Prescod, the SSA itself has been continually plagued with issues.
It is in serious need of an overhaul.
It seems as if every other month the authority’s workers are threatening some form of industrial action or other.
But when is the last time the SSA was able to adequately service the country’s waste management needs?
Two months ago, the Government’s Senior Technical Advisor, economist Dr Kevin Greenidge suggested that the SSA, along with the Barbados Water Authority and the Transport Board be considered for privatization.
He said this was part of Phase Three of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transition (BERT) programme and the privatization of state-owned enterprises was necessary if Government was to meet some of the targets set out in the programme.
“If we don’t restructure our SOE’s and we don’t make that target then … financing that we wanted to reform and grow the economy will stop. It is not a matter of culture… if we set our minds to say this is something that we must do as a people, we will get it done,” Greenidge had said, while pointing out the need for increased efficiency at the SSA.
Privatizing the SSA is an idea which has been thrown around for several years.
Ironically, when the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) was in office in 2016, some members of the then Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) strongly opposed the suggestion.
And although recently Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes agreed that such a move would be beneficial to Government, the man who replaced Dr Delisle Worrell contends that it would improve the country’s fiscal position by developing strategies to increase income from SOE’s, including the SSA.
And it does not help that the sanitation authority is saddled with a $28.7 million headquarters building at Vaucluse, St. Thomas, that it is yet to be occupied, due to concerns about potential adverse health effects on staff.
Any move towards privatization must include a serious push towards encouraging recycling at every level and research into the ways that Barbados can reuse materials for profits (coconut husks being a great start).
Additionally, with Prescod placing modernization at the forefront of his Ministry’s efforts, the idea of having a fleet of electrically-powered trucks must be more than an idea.
There is no more time to waste.