Media statement from Minister of the Environment and National Beautification, Trevor Prescod.
Government is committed to providing employment opportunities for traditionally marginalized groups, including ex-prisoners and persons who are successfully managing their psychiatric challenges.
As Minister of the Environment and National Beautification I am firm in the position that given the periodic shortages of labour at the Sanitation Service Authority, suitable persons from among these groups can find employment there as job hands, driving and loading compactor trucks.
However, I want to make it clear that at no time during my conversation with journalists on Friday at the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme of the United Nations Development Programme, did I say that Government was considering using prisoners or patients of the Psychiatric Hospital to fill this void, as stated on the Cover and Page 3 of today’s Saturday Sun newspaper.
My exact words were: “What I intend to do is to have job hands, because of the challenges of people going home sick and people going on vacation, and (also) because I cannot increase the staff because of the financial challenges we are facing… I am going to have these people there on standby …
“I am looking at the unemployed, and in some cases, we have to help people who went through all kinds of challenges in life and got pushed to the margins. So you will find at the SSA, you will find at MTW and you will find at NCC people that have had challenges at the Psychiatric Hospital, people who have had challenges with incarceration.
“These institutions are real humane institution. They might be perceived as artificial persons in law, but in reality, these are real people we are dealing with, and we have to make them part of the labour force.
“If we push people on the margins of society, then we will begin to experience a lot of social tensions… So I have to find some means of helping these people to be included back into the mainstream of society. That’s the way I am going to go about the business from here on.”
Barbados has been facing a severe problem with the collection of household refuse for a number of years — a situation that predated the election of this Government and my appointment to this post.
The Barbados Labour Party, before it was elected to office, promised that it would employ every resource at its disposal to solve the problem, and in the process, create a cleaner and healthier country.
This has been my primary mission from Day One of my appointment as Minister of the Environment and National Beautification. I have been working every day, with the board, management and staff of the Sanitation Service Authority to make this a reality.
While we have made significant progress with the addition of seven (7) new refuse compactor trucks, with an order already placed for 12 more, and a vigorous repair and maintenance programme for the aged fleet that has to date cost more than one million dollars ($1 m), significant challenges remain.
One of the greatest of these challenges has been the constant availability of personnel to operate the fleet. This has been in spite of the fact that while we have been able to raise the number of trucks on the road today to 21, up from 12 when we took over the Government, we are still well below the daily requirement.
There are shifts for which we at times have working trucks, but no available driver and/or labourers.
This is also in spite of the fact that when fiscal constraints left us with no choice but to trim the public service, we did not sever a single employee of the SSA.
It was against this background that I spoke on Friday, and I hope that the misrepresentation of my remarks will now be set right. I am well aware that there are very limited ways in which a Government can employ prison labour that we are signatory to International Labour Organisation provisions that guide any such activity.