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by Roy R. Morris

After almost three years of trying to forge an agreement with the Barbados Workers Union over the laying of new mains, the Barbados Water Authority has called on the Chief Labour Officer to intervene.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the BWA reported:

“In May 2010, [we] initiated discussions with the BWU in order to implement and expedite the laying of a pipeline project consisting of three large diameter mains that are necessary to facilitate a number of proposals for housing and commercial developments in the south eastern corridor of the island.

“As a matter of custom and practice, the BWA negotiates with the BWU with regard to the execution of projects of this nature and size. The BWA does not possess the required trenching equipment or financial and human resource capacity to perform work of this nature.

“Against this background, the BWA has partnered with Ionics Pipelines Ltd to undertake this project.

“The BWA has always acted in good faith and has followed standard industrial relations procedures in respect to all union negotiations. After several meetings, the BWA has concluded that this matter has become too elastic in reaching a resolution and that the intervention of a third party is necessary.

“To this end the BWA has written to the Chief Labour Officer requesting conciliatory services in an effort to resolve this state of affairs and avoid the negative impact that further delays will have on national development.”

Barbados TODAY investigations have revealed that all aspects of the project for three mains ranging in size from ten inches to 18 inches, stretching over a total of 22 kilometres, have long been approved with more than $3 million in pipes sitting in the island waiting to be installed.

The mains are to run from the Belle to the area of the Emancipation Statue, from Fort George to Staple Grove, and from Searles to the area of the Providence Methodist Church.

Based on the precedent set with the laying of a West Coast main a few years ago, the terms of the current project, once it begins, would see three private contractors, C.O. Williams Construction, Rayside Construction and Arthur Construction utilising their own equipment to undertake the trenching, preparation of the bed on which the pipes would rest and the backfilling and reinstating of the surface.

The BWA would utilise its personnel, equipment and expertise to install the pipes, valves and other related works.

“As I understand it there is really no dispute relating to the actual pipe laying project,” a source said. “It would appear that there are a number of unrelated grievances on things such as pay and job descriptions which the union has lumped into the exercise.”

In the meanwhile, the source noted, the south and the south-eastern section of the island does not receive enough water to allow the Chief Town Planner to give final approval to a number of projects that have been on hold for years.

“So everyone is suffering, and this makes absolutely no sense,” an official told Barbados TODAY. “All the designs have been done, the contracts have literally been signed. Things have even long reached the stage where flyers have been printed to distribute to people who will be affected from time to time to let them know when they will have disruptions.”

Barbados TODAY was also informed that one of the most respected accounting firms in the country was hired to study how the new mains would impact on the fortunes of the BWA. It has been documented, a source noted, that with this work the authority’s financial state would improve since it would bring new business since new customers would join the system, and with new pipes they would be “generating a greater volume of revenue from a smaller volume of water”.

One source also complemented minister with responsibility for water resources, Dr. David Estwick, on how he had been dealing with the matter, noting that if it had been left up to him the pipes would have been in place long ago, and the BWA would have been much closer to being a regulatory/revenue body, involved in guaranteeing water quality, setting rates, collecting money etc, with much of the capital-type works being carried out in partnership with the private sector.

“The BWA has the capacity to influence development in a major way in this country,” one official said, “but as you can see, based on what has been happening with the union, the impact has been negative rather than positive.

“There are projects that should right now be helping to push the economy along, but instead they are stalled because there is insufficient water to drive them.”

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