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Monday 27 January 2020
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Traffic wardens in a jam

IT’S NEVER satisfactory when workers are denied their pay. For work done, a worker must be compensated in a timely way. That’s not what happened to traffic wardens this month. When the time came for payment, there was a glitch.

“We’re supposed to be paid two days before month-end,” one warden told Newsday. “Every time we call, it’s excuses after excuses.”

Eventually, cheques were printed, and funds deposited by Tuesday of this week.

But many at the Traffic Warden Division of the Ministry of Works and Transport were still anxious. And they should be. Without a guarantee that late payment will be a thing of the past, it’s not unforeseeable that the situation will happen again. There are deeper questions over the future of wardens too.

Traffic wardens were introduced in 2011 to assist police in the control and regulation of road traffic, freeing up police officers to allow them to focus on tackling crime. From inception, five batches totalling about 400 officers were recruited.

But according to Chief Traffic Warden Randolph Protain, traffic wardens have been leaving the division in droves. Appearing before the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Land and Physical Infrastructure earlier this year, Protain said about 140 officers remain.

“What we find is happening is other law enforcement agencies are feeding on the people we’ve trained or have trained,” he said.

Yet the high turnover probably relates more to the conditions at the ministry than they do to zealous head-hunting by other agencies.

The late payment is just one factor. Another is the sense of the wardens being right in the middle of rapid changes which the overall transport system is undergoing.

More and more infrastructure upgrades are taking place, with the construction of walkovers and the implementation of high-tech ticketing and surveillance systems that do not rely on the human eye. Wardens are limited to urban areas and are not meant for areas where there is a highway patrol, but even in their limited zone of operation there have been changes looking back to pre-2011 conditions.

For example, a key component of the current strategy to deal with crime is to increase police visibility. This means police are being brought back out onto the streets to do what traffic wardens had been introduced to do in the first place.

What will be the role of the traffic warden in a greater and more sophisticated traffic system? Can they become a precursor recruitment agency for the Police Service?

While we await answers to these questions, the very least the State can do is ensure these officers, who perform a key service, are treated with the respect they deserve.

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