In what is being described as a case of the nation’s health being compromised for the sake of a few dollars, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is charging that the Sanitation Service Authority’s (SSA) decision to halt weekend garbage collection in order to avoid paying overtime, has resulted in even more garbage pile-ups across the island.
As a matter of fact, acting deputy general secretary Wayne Walrond told Barbados TODAY the development was “downright silly” and argued that the decision was putting the health of Barbadians at risk over a “few dollars”.
“It is my understanding that workers are not allowed to work on weekends to avoid paying overtime. This is a big part of the reason why we are seeing garbage pile-ups all over the place. I don’t understand why the overtime could not continue until we get the full complement of trucks for the good of the public,” said Waldron, who contended that this matter should not be seen as a labour versus Government issue, but rather through the lenses of what is in the national interest.
“There are no winners and losers in this overtime dispute. This is about the national interest. There is no way that making garbage collection an exception to Government’s no overtime rule can compromise the BERT [Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation] programme,” he further lamented. An impassioned Walrond pointed out that Government had introduced a levy for garbage collection (Garbage and Sewage Collection tax) and therefore there was no excuse for this “hardline position”.
When contacted, SSA public relations officer Carl Padmore revealed that the weekend situation had indeed contributed to irregular garbage collections in several rural communities.
“We are not paying overtime as the Minister [of the Environment and National Beautification, Trevor Prescod] would have confirmed and naturally it would have some bearing on collections because that’s two days we would be missing at three shifts per day. So we are trying to do the best we can with Monday to Friday and we are responding to some serious backlogs in the north of the island. We also note that there are some issues in St Joseph, St George and St John. We also had the private hauler working in St Philip,” Padmore explained, noting that currently the SSA only had 17 trucks to service over 150 routes.
The SSA spokesman also made it clear that the mechanics at the organization were working around the clock to increase the complement of garbage trucks. He also revealed that the two recently bought trucks had been deployed within the St Michael area to allow larger trucks to deal with the pile-ups.
Last week, Prescod said Government had agreed that overtime would be paid to workers who worked weekends until a permanent agreement could be reached with the workers’ bargaining agent, the 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 critical 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.
Late last year, SSA workers threatened to stop weekend work during the busy Christmas season 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 an interruption in service at a time when garbage was continuing to pile up across the island.
Government is asking the union representing the workers to consider a change that would require the workweek to be any five of seven days. In the current arrangement, a workweek is fixed from Monday to Friday and crews are paid overtime for weekend collections.