The forgotten profession: The plight of garbage collectors

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Joel Jeffery (right) and his team collect garbage at Five Islands
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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Most mornings after Joel Jeffery wakes up, whether it’s raining or extremely hot, his duty is to go about various communities emptying wastebins.

Jeffery loves his job and is not deterred by what he calls residents’ ‘overconsumption’, but the recent issue of nonpayment of overtime has caused him to feel demotivated.

“Because of the situation, our supervisors asked us not to work beyond two o’clock because there is no overtime guarantee. So, we have to go earlier than usual and work faster than usual to get the communities covered before the time,” he said.

The man, who has worked for the National Solid Waste Management Authority for several years, spoke to Observer this week while going about his duties.

He and his team, which typically includes a truck driver and another worker, usually collect the trash in Five Islands, Hatton and other areas twice a week.

Last week, the workers halted their services as they agitated for their overtime pay, which they claim has been outstanding since 2020, causing a pile-up of garbage in various communities.

Cabinet said last week that US$100,000 would be provided to the authority as a goodwill payment to be made to the workers today.

“We are confident that we will get our overtime today. We were promised at least half of it. They made that promise to us in the presence of the union,” Jeffrey said.

Another concern among garbage workers is the lack of risk pay to compensate for what they are exposed to on the job. In addition to household waste, they also collect hospital waste from facilities treated Covid-infected patients.

Jeffery said his supervisors are trying “as best as they could to provide the protective gears to us and to make sure we are protected, but there is only so much they can do”.

He also said that, sometimes, loaders and truckers feel disrespected by the public.

“Some people respect us but there are some who don’t. If we decide not to work, the same people who treat us like our jobs are not important will perhaps realise the need for our labour,” he added.

The Antigua Trades and Labour Union has been negotiating on the behalf of the aggrieved workers for several months.

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