SANITATION workers are upset about the state of their stalled negotiations and claimed they are being treated worse than the garbage they manage. It’s a colourful turn of phrase, but the workers, who say they are working in a “cocktail of poison,” claim the government doesn’t seem interested in addressing the negotiation process for their collective agreement for 2014 to 2016.
A year ago, in February, Corporation workers marched outside the Port of Spain City Corporation to protest their work conditions and compensation. And it isn’t just about the money. For a full year, the workers haven’t gotten a response to their concerns about what they describe as “deplorable and unsanitary” work environments.
These problem areas don’t only affect workers working in sanitation, but also those working in pest control, health and safety officers and even some municipal police officers. The 2018 protest was organised by the Amalgamated Sanitation Workers Union (ASWU).
Last week’s concerns were raised by the Industrial General and Sanitation Workers Union (IGSWU), with whom the ASWU has expressed solidarity.
Successive governments, IGSWU member Jason Thompson said, have failed to transform dump sites into modern engineered landfills, a critical issue that affects everyone in TT, but impacts sanitation workers directly and daily.
Clearly there needs to be a major effort at rethinking our waste management challenges from the infrastructural level right down to the quality of human resource management.
In Tobago alone, 69 percent of the 233,000 litres of waste oil recovered from vehicles and industry between 2013 and 2016 was dumped into the Studley Park waste facility. Three percent of it was shipped to Trinidad and much of the remaining 28 percent of it was dumped into Tobago’s soil, drains and water courses. TT isn’t the largest per capita waste producer anymore, but we generate an estimated 1.5 kilogrammes per person per day, twice the world average according to the World Bank’s 2018 global waste report.
We collect undifferentiated rubbish, plough it into the earth, try to keep it from flaring into blazes generating toxic smoke and hope, irrationally, that it won’t wreak long term havoc on our environment and eventually put poisons into our ecosystems and our bodies.
Almost half of the waste in the Caribbean is organic and compostable, but only 0.8 percent of it is composted in TT. Open dumps are the receptacle for 84 percent of our waste and just 12 percent goes to controlled landfills.
Maybe it’s time to start thinking of sanitation workers less as labourers than as skilled professionals with very specific experience who can provide an important starting point for making a fundamental and overdue change in our approach to managing our overwhelming waste problem.