The discord between the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) and its workers over the issue of overtime pay for weekend work, has been settled for the time being.
Minister of the Environment and National Beautification, Trevor Prescod, has revealed that Government has agreed to continue paying overtime until a permanent agreement could be reached with the workers’ bargaining agent, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
The minister explained that while Government was still very much determined to curtail overtime in the public service as a cost-cutting measure, they were willing to make a temporary exception for the SSA workers, because their service was critically needed on all seven days per week.
“While the overtime is still an issue, we certainly cannot do without those workers being deployed to different areas on weekends. The Prime Minister is still concerned with the amount of overtime but we will continue to pay the overtime in the interim until we resolve the problem,” Prescod said in a recent interview with Barbados TODAY.
Last month, as garbage continued to pile up across the island, workers threatened to stop weekend collections if the SSA management followed through with its plan to cut out overtime payments.
It took a last-minute meeting of the SSA, NUPW and Minister of Labour Colin Jordan to avert a potentially messy situation. At the time workers claimed that they were being pressured into accepting new work conditions, a charge which was denied by Prescod.
Under the current arrangement, a workweek is fixed from Monday to Friday and crews are paid overtime for weekend collections. The proposal was for the work week to be made up of any five days.
However, Prescod maintained that negotiations were still actively continuing between the union and the SSA. He revealed that several offers are currently on the table for consideration.
“We have also put on the table the concept of leasing vehicles from private persons that would be driven by the Sanitation Service Authority staff. I thought that this idea should not be too contentious but apparently we have not been able to resolve that yet. So, the talks are going on and they are relatively warm, not contentious, but we have not made the decision that I would like to see coming,” he stressed.
NUPW Acting Deputy General Secretary Wayne Walrond said he was happy with Government’s interim position. However, he is of the view that the overtime issue will work itself out in the long-term once Government eventually acquires the full complement of trucks, which would enable workers to cover the entire island between Monday to Friday.
“I have not heard anything official yet, but we would really welcome this move because this has been the union’s position all along. We understand that Government has a difficult decision to make with regard to the retrenchment. However, we had always put forward the position that it was more economical to let the overtime run until Government gets the additional trucks and then the overtime would not even be an issue because workers would be able to pick up the garbage in the normal work week,” Walrond pointed out.
Earlier this month, Government received the first two of seven new garbage trucks, ordered from Japan and retrofitted in the United States. Prescod has promised that once there are no further unforeseen issues, two more trucks will be arriving next month while the remainder will arrive in March.