NUGFW: WASA violates workers deal
By Andre Bagoo Saturday, April 21 2012
THE WATER and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has violated the terms of an out-of-court agreement on the place of workers, president general of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) James Lambert charged yesterday, as unions made emergency plans in response to statements by the line minister Emmanuel George which put the future of 2,800 jobs in doubt.
At Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, George refused to rule out that 2,800 jobs could be lost amid ongoing “restructuring” of the authority. He queried whether the 2,800 workers had, since being added to WASA’s labour force, added value to the authority.
“This is a violation of our agreement,” Lambert said, citing a court case brought last year to prevent the retrenchment of 69 National Social Development Programme workers. Lambert said in exchange for the withdrawal of that action, WASA made certain assurances.
“We agreed at the level of the court that we would have needed to have the status of workers regularised and that we would have been informed if WASA brought in a foreign company to restructure. The hiring of a foreign firm was done without the notice to the union.”
Describing the minister’s confirmation that a Ugandan firm was hired to restructure WASA as “shocking” Lambert said, “we were not aware that they had brought down a Ugandan firm to do restructuring. We have not been officially informed. The NUGFW is not on board.”
Lambert said he has called for a meeting of the North, South and Tobago branches of the union, which represents daily-rated workers, next week.
“We will be meeting to discuss the pronouncements made by the minister,” he said. “Then we will convey a meeting with the authority to discuss the statement.”
He questioned the minister’s assertion that a portion of the workforce may not be adding value to WASA.
“We are not aware that they have a superflous amount of daily rated workers,” he said. “The mere idea that we could have so many contractual arrangements with workers now tells me that there is need for the workers there.”
WASA has hired Ugandan firm National Water and Sewerage Corporation and a subsidiary of the Spanish firm Agbar to “restructure”. George yesterday stood by his stance, querying the value added by the 2,800 workers.
At a parliamentary committee meeting he told reporters that he never said the 2,800 workers would lose their jobs and there was a “wrong interpretation” of his statements
George said reports of lay offs has created “panic” at WASA and the unions would be concerned.
No union had contacted him at the time he spoke to media at the J Hamilton Maurice Room of the Parliament following a Joint Select Committee meeting.
George said he knew his statements would result in having to answer questions yesterday following his statement on Thursday at the post-Cabinet media briefing. He stressed that his statements were a repeat of what his view since 2010.
“I added nothing and now 18 months later this thing is taken to mean I am saying to lay off people. I am not saying that at all I just drew attention to the numbers that were put into WASA by the previous regime and even though they put this numbers in no improvement in service took place,” he said.
Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke yesterday said the PSA was “concerned” about the developments. “We are not worried but we are concerned and are going to be releasing a statement next week,” he said.
The Opposition PNM’s labour officer Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, a former PSA president, said George had to give more details of what he meant by his comments in relation to the 2,800 workers.
“The minister has to engage in a little more explanation,” she said. “He has to give more explanation than what was given. It is a reflection of a lack of respect on the part of the minister and the CEO (Ganga Singh).” She queried the assessment of the workforce of WASA.
“What kind of analysis was conducted? How it was conducted? What were the factors used in arriving at the fact that it was overstaffed?”
She queried the role of the PSA.
“The question we have to ask what is the role of the union?” she said. She argued that the union’s failure to criticise the apparent lack of transparency in the recruitment of Singh has now come back to haunt it.