SOME 213 managers at WASA face losing their jobs, as a first step in "transforming" the State-run utility and cutting its operating costs by 25 per cent.
This is being done to make WASA an agency that will "meet the needs of the population but not be a burden on the Treasury," Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said at a briefing at his Port of Spain office on Thursday. Also present was WASA chairman Ravindra Nanga.
Gonzales said WASA's 426-strong management team will be cut by 50 per cent adding that WASA's entire top management was replaced in July 2021.
Gonzales said Cabinet has just approved a transformation plan for WASA, to attract the "best and brightest talent" for new management posts to be publicly advertised.
WASA will break the country into five regions – north west, north east, central, south and Tobago – each to be run by a regional manager and a Water Resource Agency.
Gonzales promised talks with WASA's recognised majority unions (PSA and NUGFW) before touching the job of any of WASA's 5,000 workers. He said workers will be able to re-tool and re-skill for new positions.
Gonzales said the report of a Cabinet subcommittee which was laid in Parliament, had found that a past allocation of $2 billion to the authority did not result in any transformation. The report predicted the further decline of WASA if the status quo remains.
He said a $25 billion allocation to WASA, over a decade, should have resulted in a first-class organisation, but this was not the case. "The Government must intervene, it can't be business as usual. Water is a basic human right," Gonzales said.
However, he boasted that 64 per cent of the population receives a 24/3 or 24/7 water supply, including newly-supplied rural areas like Brasso Seco, Guaico and Manzanilla North. He promised WASA's "constant decimation of freshly-paved roads" would cease.
Saying Cabinet and WASA's board both agreed WASA must move into a new model, the minister said, "Once the customer is the focus, all else will fall into place."
Gonzales said WASA's transformational changes would begin in early 2023.
Saying WASA has "serious and chronic" management problems, he said, "We need a team of managers sharing our vision." Asked what job losses were expected among workers, he said, "I don't want to say anything to prejudice negotiations between the board and the union."
The minister said that even the representing trade unions – the PSA and the NUGFW – have recognised that WASA is overstaffed and both prefer VSEP for displaced workers.
Gonzales said he is hoping WASA cuts its operational budget by 25 per cent, with these transformational changes, while increasing its revenue collection by $1 billion.
He said transformation can't be just about staff reduction but must include a vision and business plan that also embraces technology.
Government's plan has taken time, so as to have a better chance of success, Gonzales said, as opposed to the UNC's failed past retrenchment plan for WASA, when it was in government.
Nanga made it clear this was a restructuring exercise and not a retrenchment. He could not say how many workers could be affected in the restructuring. "Workers in the bargaining unit have absolutely nothing to fear," Nanga said.
Asked if the Government was anti-labour, Gonzales said transformation could come at a political cost, but when people couldn't water, that too has a political price. He wondered if people without water ever complained to union leaders? He vowed to work in the best interest of the people.
PSA head Leroy Baptiste told Newsday he would engage in talks but did not want his workers to be treated like dogs, as he alleged had been the case at TSTT, when some workers turned up to work only to be handed a retrenchment slip. He preferred the dignity of VSEP.