Minister of the Environment Dr. Denis Lowe (at head of table) is flanked by Chairman of the SSA Board, Margot Harvey and board member, Sarston Lavine, other board members and SSA workers’ representatives. At right (backing)??are NUPW President Walter Maloney; ??General Secretary, Denis Clarke; and Acting Deputy General Secretary Roslyn Smith.
Efforts are under way to ensure that Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) staff receive their due, in terms of optimum working conditions, in light of their critical role in national development.
This was the unanimous position coming out of closed-door talks between members of the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) top brass, the SSA Board, worker representatives and Minister of the Environment, Dr. Denis Lowe, at the SSA Headquarters this morning.
Addressing the over one-hour long talks, Minister Lowe underlined the need for ongoing relations at the level of the union, the Board and the Ministry, if workers’ rights were to be upheld.??
"We do not believe that the only time we should engage is when there is a moment of contention. I don’t believe those are the best moments to share relationships – I believe that we should certainly be willing and ready to work from the front-end and work our way through the process of relationship building," he maintained.
In this regard, Minister Lowe heralded what he dubbed the "re-birthing" of the SSA, where its mandate would be fulfilled and workers come into full understanding of their true position, rather than viewing themselves as only waiting to clean up other people’s mess.
"The idea is for our people not just to see themselves as waiting for persons to make a mess to go out there and to clean it; but for them to see themselves as a part of the engine of development of the country. And this is the message that I want to get across to the workers.
"…if the SSA was to decide for whatever reasons,?? that come Monday they were not going out there – then we would have a crisis in the country. There are few engines of Government, if they are stopped that can create a national crisis.?? This is why I think that our commitment as a Board, and as a Ministry, is to ensure that the relationships are right, the opportunities are there, and that the environment is created where workers can fully function. Moreover, where they can begin?? to transform their own thinking as to the?? role that they are playing in Government’s?? sustainable development?? plan – and that’s where we want to go," the minister surmised.
Pledging to avoid mistakes of the past, Dr. Lowe expressed the hope that the talks would be a precursor to a "long and enduring" relationship between the SSA and the union.
"There will be times when we do not see eye to eye on certain issues, but I think if the bridge we build is strong enough, we will be able to cross back and forth as we may need to. We are also seeking, as you are, the best possible conditions for our workers. We want to ensure that this authority is a progressive, productive authority; we want to ensure that it reflects the policies of the Government and that when we act on the behalf of our people that they are confident that we are acting in their best interests. In order for those things to happen, there must be open communication and that is why we chose to start in this manner," he told the union representatives gathered.
In addressing the meeting, NUPW General Secretary, Denis Clarke, stressed that relations between the union and the Authority dated back to the early 1970s.
"I don’t think we have any members on staff right now that knew the difficult times that we went through in the 70s to change the conditions of service for the sanitation worker, while trying to bring about some kind of dignity. We have been able to achieve that. Yes, we would have some struggles as recent as last year, but as long as you are dealing with human beings there are times when there will be disagreements. If we are not willing to sit at the table and hammer them out, they can lead to unnecessary altercations," he opined.
Noting that over the years the union had been able to cultivate a good working relationship with management of the SSA, Mr. Clarke said it was expected that given this morning’s initiative that this would be maintained.
"We?? expect that this trend will continue or even improve and that this institution,?? which, in our view is one of the most, if not the most, important institutions in Barbados, will?? continue to grow from strength to strength.
"We also expect that it would provide the kind of protection for this country… because clean streets and a clean environment are critical, not only to the tourist but Barbadian residents and sanitation workers are very mindful of this," the union leader asserted.