An early morning chat with the Prime Minister may have moved the needle in the standoff between Sanitation Service Authority workers and management on the issue of overtime pay, Barbados TODAY has learned.
The workers have tentatively agreed to try the option of working five days out of seven including Saturdays and Sundays on a voluntary basis – instead of the current Monday to Friday work week. This would effectively end an entitlement to weekend overtime.
According to workers who spoke to Barbados TODAY on condition of anonymity, Mottley is said to have rationalised the need for the change by arguing that as garbage is generated on the weekend it was necessary to have collection on those days as well as to avoid pileups.
Following the 6 a.m. meeting, the sanitation workers said that while they were not quite ready to sign away their current right to their weekends off, they were willing to give the new system a try on a voluntary basis.
One worker said: “Ms Mottley really spoke our language and she really explained to us what she was trying to do, and I believe that some of us are willing to try it out to see what happens. If the thing works well then, we could see about making the change to the contract.”
Four other workers who attended the meeting at the SSA’s Wildey headquarters told Barbados TODAY they, too, were willing to work on weekends only on a voluntary basis.
The workers’ bargaining agent, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), told Barbados TODAY that it would first need to hold a meeting with its members to determine if their position has changed.
Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Waldron said that the workers appreciated the fact that the Prime Minister took the time out to hear their concerns.
But he said it was not the first time that the volunteer trial approach was suggested but that the SSA management had resisted this proposal in the past.
Waldron said: “The NUPW and the workers have no problem with workers who want to try it out through a volunteer system, and as a matter of fact this is a very sensible approach. The problem is that we have pushed this same proposal before but the SSA board and management insisted that it was basically all or nothing. So, we will meet with the members and see what they decide.”
Last month, SSA workers rejected a third attempt to introduce the new five-on, two-off system, insisting that their weekends must remain reserved for their social life and family commitments.
In February, SSA spokesman Carl Padmore revealed that the overtime cut, which has resulted in the cessation of weekend collections, had contributed to irregular garbage collections in several rural communities, in the north as well as in St Joseph, St George and St John.
Overtime had been slashed under the IMF-supervised Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, which has affected agencies and ministries across Government.