Disgruntled employees clashed with Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) police at the authority’s St Joseph headquarters main entrance on Wednesday, as they called on the board to treat them fairly.
What started as a peaceful demonstration ended in a brawl between police at the main gate and a handful of men from the group when they were barred from entering to demand a meeting with the authority.
While Russell Mohammed, secretary of the WASA Workers Section, National Union of Government and Federated Workers, spoke to the officers, one woman pointed to an open entrance a stone's throw away from the main gate.
Before officers could close that entrance, half of the workers ran inside and some were still trying to push their way in even while the gates were being closed.
This was when an officer grabbed one worker and pushed him out. The clash lasted for ten minutes.
Mohammed repeatedly reminded the workers of why they were there but was unable to calm them and the exchange continued. The crowd dispersed before a team of police arrived.
Newsday was told 900 daily paid workers are demanding all outstanding sick-leave bonus payments immediately. They also called for better contracts.
Mohammed believes, “The workers are being blackmailed. They are deliberately withholding your entitlement of the sick-leave bonus and I state that emphatically because of the events that transpired."
He said on December 20 the board told the union workers sick-leave bonuses would be paid after they signed an agreement on the new terms and conditions for the transformation of WASA.
“And if they don’t sign, then they don’t know when the payment will be made. That’s extortion. That's blackmail.
“If the board of commissioners is behind this, what example are they setting?” he asked.
“It is evident that all hell has broken loose in this WASA. We have directors who don’t have the best interest of the worker at heart."
He claims the authority has left the union and workers out of its plans to restructure the organisation.
“In the absence of any meeting and discussions, how can there be transformation? It is extermination, and obviously it's deprivation of the entitlement of the citizens of the country.”
Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales, WASA CEO Sherland Sheppard and chairman Ravindra Nanga could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
In a release sent to the media later on Wednesday WASA condemned the actions of the workers.
The release said WASA would launch an investigation into the incident between employees and the police.
“Some employees engaged in ill-advised protest action that may also be precipitated by other concerns inclusive of the transfer of an employee, as well as the initiation of investigations into an alleged incident involving another employee.”
The company said it remained committed to meeting its obligations of sick-leave bonus payments under the subsisting collective agreement.