Thu | Jan 27, 2022

Editors' Forum | NSWMA cleaning up working conditions for garbage collectors

Published:Wednesday | October 9, 2019 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer

A salary increase, new uniforms, health insurance and developmental workshops are among things the management of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has implemented to improve the working conditions of garbage collectors.

The workers, who were formerly called sidemen and operated on the backs of the garbage trucks, had detailed their frustration with their working conditions in a 2018 Sunday Gleaner article, pointing to low wages and lack of proper gear as their main complaints.

NSWMA Executive Director Audley Gordon then vowed to get them a more liveable wage.

“We call them sanitation workers now,” he told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week. “We are lifting their standard in every way. When we went to the NSWMA in 2016, what we saw in terms of wages was a measly $1,200 per day for the man who go out in sun and rain and face the stench that most of us would rather not face. I saw that as very cruel.

“I set out, with the help of the executive and our board, to rage a fight on their behalf. We were able, in 2017, to move their wage from $1,200 to $1,600 per day, and just this past July, we were able to move it again to $2,000 per day, still small for what they are asked to do, but we are not over with the fight,” the NSWMA executive director told Gleaner editors and reporters.

He said that in addition to better wages, the overall well-being of the workers is something he takes a special interest in.

“We have instituted training for all our sanitation workers now, right around the island. We break them for a day, put them in a nice air-conditioned, comfortable space, have lunch with them, have specialists come in, and we talk through issues of customer service, their own deportment,” he said.

“We have motivational speakers come in to lift them so they can feel that they are a part of something good, that what they do is not nasty, it’s not anything that they need to hold down their head. We even get some of them now to be in the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning. Several of them are certified by HEART.”

In May, the NSWMA announced that it had spent over $50 million to buy new uniforms for workers. While some persons may see the spend as excessive, NSWMA Chairman Dennis Chung said that it was money well spent.

“The reflector thing (neon-green vests) is a safety measure. So when we hear people talking about how much money we spend on uniforms, we can’t put a price on the safety of the people that you have put in our care,” he said.

“Another thing that we have done also is ensure that all of them are on health insurance. We recognise that the people out there are our front-line workers, and we have done everything possible to take care of them, and that’s why we ask are asking Jamaicans to containerise their garbage properly. You wouldn’t want your son going out there and having to shovel up garbage and that sort of thing,” said Chung.