Community-based Environmental, Protection and Enhancement Company Ltd (CEPEP) board members have decided to temporarily cut salaries of 10,000 workers by 33.3 per cent and reduce working hours and shifts by 50 per cent, with immediate effect.
After a "careful assessment,” the board said it saw best to have each worker operate on scheduled shifts of four hours per day, two days per week, and a maximum of eight days a month.
Management fees of contractors would also be affected.
CEPEP, announcing the changes on Friday afternoon in a media release, said the decision, taken during a monthly meeting on May 26, “directly protects the welfare of the workers” and “will ensure that there is no job loss.”
Apart from CEPEP’s justification for this move is the company’s inability to once again compensate workers, as it did in 2020 for three months, during the stay-at-home restrictions.
"At this present time, we are unable to provide that level of financial support to 10,000 workers.”
The company said it relayed this information to all contractors via a Zoom meeting on Wednesday.
This comes after CEPEP announced it will temporarily suspend field operations, with pay, in May after the Prime Minister reverted to strict measures to contain the upsurge of the virus.
CEPEP, which runs on government subvention, noted further economic challenges owing to the pandemic have prompted its decision.
In the release, chairman of the CEPEP board of directors Marilyn Michael said, “We continue to pay the salaries of 10,000 workers and have not sent any workers home. In order to operate effectively, we have cut down the working hours of each worker and placed them in smaller rotating teams.
“As we battle the covid19 pandemic, we must be responsible when utilising public monies. At this time, we must implement stricter fiscal policies in the interest of maintaining the CEPEP programme and safeguarding the employment of the thousands of persons who depend on this employment organisation.”
Attempts to contact Michael for further comment were unsuccessful.
This move would have come as a shock to many, especially after the Prime Minister, in December 2020 said CEPEP is “part of the Government’s strong social support system to those most vulnerable and in need.”
Dr Rowley said CEPEP workers’earnings “helps keep the economic engine of the country alive” and “because of the pandemic and the decline in the economy, these people are there in large numbers and, therefore, the need for a social programme is important...”
He made those comments while responding to questions raised over the government’s choice to increase the programme’s allocation, and cut monies pumped into the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE) and scholarships.
When contacted for a comment Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein told Newsday he preferred not to comment on the move since it was made by the CEPEP board and not the ministry.
The programme also received an increase in subvention for 2021 along with a 15 per cent wage increase for the 2020/2021 fiscal year. Minister of Finance Colm Imbert allocated $400 million to CEPEP, approximately $25 million more than the $375.9 million allocation in 2019.
Contacted for comment, president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke described the pay cut as an insult to the workers. He said a decision such as that could only be followed by an increase in crime.
“These are defenceless people, at the lowest rank in the economic ladder, under the poverty line if a worker who usually collects $900 will now collect $240 a month.
He said, “By cutting workers’ pay is a way of saying, ‘Who doesn't like it could leave the job.’"
He condemned Government for failing to make good of its promise to protect the workers.
“Failure to protect the most needy shows lack of the social justice promised to citizens in our Constitution of TT,” as many of the workers will now be on the breadline.
“With no job opportunities during a state of emergency/curfew/covid19, it is tantamount to the Prime Minister saying to each of them: ‘Do what you have to do to survive because it’s no longer my business of how you survive.”