More money for water workers

Although it faces a serious cash crunch, the Chairman of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) Dr Atlee Brathwaite says the state-run BWA is neither contemplating a hike in water rates nor any layoffs of its staff at this time.

However, he is not ruling out the possibility that such may become necessary in the future, even though he said the current focus of the BWA was on making its operations more efficient, in the face of a $10 million increase in its wage bill.

Back in March, the embattled BWA agreed with the workers’ representatives to a package of payments for its 830 employees. This came at the height of crippling weeklong protest action led by the Barbados Workers Union (BWU).

As part of the deal brokered during a six-hour long meeting at Government Headquarters on March 24, under the chairmanship of Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo and attended by
Minister of Water Resource Management Dr David Estwick, Government agreed to the increase for both monthly and weekly paid workers, as well as settlement of outstanding back pay.

So far, only weekly-paid employees have started to receive the benefit. However, the BWA boss told Barbados TODAY this afternoon that monthly-paid workers should begin getting their new salaries early next month, explaining that management was currently correcting a number of errors in the calculations.

In the meantime, the BWA, which topped the Auditor General’s report last year for highly indebted state entities, is also due to disburse $17 million in back pay owed to the workers, but the Chairman said that matter still had to go before Parliament for final approval.

“The back pay is not yet ready to be paid out. What has been done so far is weekly-paid workers have received new wages. A short time from now, the monthly-paid workers will receive their wages also,” Brathwaite explained.

He also said based on the increase in wages, the BWA’s wage bill was likely to rise to over $40 million a year.

However, “that is a ballpark figure. That is not confirmed yet . . . these are estimates,” he emphasized.

The development comes amid ongoing concern about the financial health of the BWA, which has also recently been grappling with severe water challenges that have left residents in the north and east severely hamstrung.

In his latest report for 2015, which was recently laid in Parliament, Auditor General Leigh Trotman expressed concern that about 50 state agencies’ accounts were not included in Government’s financial statements. However, he said based on a survey of 28 of these entities – including the BWA – liabilities in the amount of $1.4 billion were recorded.

The figure includes $266 million for the BWA, which was broken down into $162.5 million in loans, $46.9 million in payables and $57.2 million in pension liabilities.

Asked if the wages increase would affect water rates, Brathwaite replied: “One would look at it from several points-of-view . . . but that can’t be an option that can be considered at this stage.

“If we can reduce our operational costs, then we would be able to cover [the increase]. So you have a number of things that you can do to reduce operational costs,” the BWA chairman said.

However, he told Barbados TODAY he did not want to categorize the cost-cutting measures because “people might say you want to send home people, but that certainly is not what the Water Authority would want to do”.

He stressed that the BWA was focused on making its operations more efficient, stressing that though layoffs could be an option, they were not presently being considered by management.

Instead, Brathwaite said the BWA was focused on boosting its current level of productivity through incentives; introducing a 24-hour shift system for workers; enhancing its use of technology and generally making the company more efficient.

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