CBH protest ends with threat of Carnival boycott

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By Robert A. Emmanuel

The government has been put on notice that it must alleviate some of the grievances of workers at the Central Board of Health (CBH), including making good on outstanding overtime and back pay before the Carnival season begins.

Yesterday, Wigley George, president of the CBH workers’ bargaining agent – the Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU) – sanctioned the work stoppage and from 7 am around 50 workers protested at the CBH headquarters on Lower All Saints Road where they called for more action to be taken by management.

They later marched to the Ministry of Health’s headquarters to demand monies owed to them and solutions to what they say are growing health and safety concerns.

But following a meeting between George and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Joan Moses Carrot, the disgruntled workers went home less dissatisfied, having been given assurances that their back pay and overtime pay would be addressed shortly.

George said outside of overtime and back pay owed to the workers, some of the health and safety issues they were agitating about included protective clothing and constant medical checks for them.

“There are many other issues pertaining to how staff should operate on the job, including protective clothing, medical checks, protection for those who actually work in chemicals; nowadays, there is this big thing about … whether chemicals can seep through water,” he said.

 “The health check is paramount because these workers are working in [those] kinds of conditions. They are not office workers; they work on the street and exposed to everything possible.”

The AT&LU president said assurances were given that the Ministry of Health will resume regular health checks for CBH workers and have identified two locations for these checks – the Browne’s Avenue and Gray’s Farm health centers.

George said a list of workers that were owed back pay and overtime had been sent to the Ministry of Finance – although some workers’ names may not be on that list as yet – and promised them that he will go to the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury Department to ensure they were paid.

He added that if some workers are not paid by the second week of June, he will request that all workers boycott cleaning the streets and venues during the Carnival season.

“The information has been sent down to Ministry of Finance. I am going to Finance to find out if the list has been sent down to Treasury and I tell both Treasury and Finance that if the money is not paid by the opening of Carnival, then they are not going to get any more work,” he said.

In a later interview with George, he clarified those comments, stating, “I would personally tell them not to work and clean anywhere – they need their money.”

He added that he would not stand for any threat by the government that if workers protest during Carnival, they will hire a private company to clean the roads after Carnival festivities.

“I heard the threat of bringing in private workers to clean the place [after Carnival] … This threat of using private people will create chaos in this country. People are accustomed to seeing town cleaned after J’ouvert and after Last Lap, the same people are exposed to the danger out there, cleaning every crevice of this city,” he said.

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