Exactly a year after the cash-strapped Barbados Water Authority (BWA) retrenched about ten per cent of its approximately 750 employees, Minister of Energy and Water Resources Wilfred Abrahams has rejected claims that the water utility had employed several more people while failing to give former workers first pick.
“There are some new people that came on and there are some who were retrenched that came on,” Abrahams told Barbados TODAY in response to queries about the state of the BWA with respect to labour one year after its retrenchment exercise.
As part of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, Government is required to restructure its state agencies, and the BWA was one of the victims of retrenchment of about 75 of the workers.
The cost-cutting measure, which took place at the end of November last year, also saw the disbanding of several posts.
However, in recent times there have been concerns that the retrenchment may have impacted the institution’s ability to effectively deal with the water challenges facing the country, with some arguing that staff who had many years of experience should be there to help.
Some of the former workers who spoke to Barbados TODAY on condition of anonymity also argued that they have learned more than 75 people had been rehired whether as consultants, part-time or full-time employees.
Asked at a recent media conference to speak to the issue of employment at the BWA since the retrenchment, Abrahams said while the numbers sent home could be considered many, it was done following union discussions and “accommodation with the union”.
Abrahams explained that with the issues facing the BWA at present, some projects had to be introduced and he admitted that some people were hired part-time, including some of the retrenched workers.
“To roll out some of these projects we have had to take on additional persons on a temporary basis. But obviously if we are looking to identify every single main in Barbados that is breached we cannot do it with the current capacity that we have. So we had to take on some additional people,” admitted Abrahams.
However, without saying how many, he said it was temporary “just to get the project going” while insisting that there was still an opportunity for more of those sent home a year ago to be called back in the future.
“It has been made clear to everybody. As we get more and more projects there may be opportunity to take on some more people, but understand that has to be balanced. It cannot be that we have gone through this exercise and we are taking on staff simply for the purpose of putting people in jobs. Every person that is taken on has to be justified in their role within the organisation and to do a particular function,” he added.
“If that function then becomes permanent then you adjust the complement accordingly. If that function is temporary or project-related then when that project has ended then that person’s association will also end. We are balancing, but the reality is that we got to a point where to do the ‘find it all and fix it all’ programme we simply cannot do that, that requires serious additional capacity and an intensive operation within a short space of time,” he explained.
Abrahams said the workers themselves created the “find it all and fix it all programme”, and that “everything has been above board” and everybody understands what is going on”.
Barbados TODAY was unable to confirm if payment to the retrenched workers was settled.
Abrahams, who did not want to provide any further updates on the related matters said: “That’s all I am actually prepared to say in relation to labour arrangement at water authority at this point.”
A month after being retrenched, the former BWA workers were informed they would get unemployment benefits through he National Insurance Scheme (NIS) after Prime Minister Mia Mottley pushed through necessary legislative changes.
It was also revealed in December 2018 that the BWA was going after some debtors who owed millions of dollars so it could pay retrenched workers cash instead of bonds.
Several former BWA workers said they did not want to comment on the development, but one who did not want to be identified, expressed disappointment they were never contacted for re-employment with the company despite spending several years there.
“The labourers and maids in particular, I believe those are some of the jobs you could have called back some of the people for,” the former BWA employee told Barbados TODAY.