Water and Sewerage Authority workers are on edge over a rumour of a possible retrenchment of over 600 of their colleagues.
Moments after the rumour surfaced on Thursday, scores of WASA workers gathered near the entrance of the authority’s Farm Rd, St Joseph head office, calling for the decision to be reconsidered.
On hearing the news of the protest hours later, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said he was surprised the workers chose to protest rather than cleaning the water treatment plants affected by the recent bad weather, which left some 200,000 customers without water.
Speaking to Newsday, Public Services Association (PSA) president Leroy Baptiste said there would be more protests until WASA or Gonzales talks to the workers about the rumours.
While he could not confirm the legitimacy of the information, Baptiste said workers and the union will take no chances.
“This administration historically has always denied rumours of retrenchment before it happens. Look at Petrotrin and TSTT – they denied it on all occasions. And now, with WASA, we anticipate it would be the same.”
He said all the workers are asking for is transparency. Two months ago, Baptiste said, the union presented the minister and WASA with an outline of nine areas in which the company can improve to become more efficient. The PSA is yet to get an audience with them, he said.
“Retrenchment is not the way,” he said adding, “The way they are moving is like a level of callousness and wickedness that they don’t want the workers to be mentally prepared in any way for the loss of their jobs.
“They always deny it until it happens. They lie to the population and they are not held accountable when it turns out that what the union and workers have been suspecting is true. We do not trust anything that comes out of the Minister of public Utilities' mouth, especially on the workers. So the workers are clear they have reason to be concerned.”
Baptiste said the work ethics of workers have been compromised and they are now labelled as inefficient and unreliable because they struggled without the resources needed to do the job.
“We ought not to step back and allow the government to do this to them.”
He further accused Gonzales and WASA’s board of commissioners of purposefully compromising operations in an attempt to humiliate workers and justify a planned restructuring exercise.
“They have denied the organisation the funding and resources, hence deliberately setting about to create a public outcry against the workers.”
Hours after the protest, at a post-Cabinet media briefing, Gonzales said in a time like this, when thousands are affected by water disruptions, the focus should be on restoring the supply.
“I’m surprised that they are protesting. I thought they would have been outside cleaning the water treatment plants to ensure that people get water. So if they are in fact protesting, I want to encourage them and advise them not to follow the advice of people who are going to mislead them. The people of Trinidad and Tobago, especially those from northeast Trinidad, are depending on them to ensure that the water treatment plants are returned to full operation.”
On the rumours of retrenchment, Gonzales said, “I don’t know nothing about that...”