Despite a Tuesday morning strike and a demand for an “immediate” upgrade in salaries, vector control workers at the Central Board of Health (CBH) have been told not to expect any increases before six weeks, as the 2017 budgetary allocations await the approval of the Senate.
Meanwhile, the 60 to 70 workers in the Vector Control Department have said they are barely getting by on their weekly take- home pay of around $309 or the roughly $1300 they receive monthly.
One male worker told OBSERVER media, “I’ve been here for 23 years. Paying your bills is like the only thing that you’re living for with the salary that you’re getting … and it seems that as long as the work is done that’s all the leaders care about.”
He added that “if you try to get information it’s like pulling teeth out of donkey,” and management has often blamed the Treasury when wage increases and outstanding back pay – owed since June/July 2016 – are not forthcoming.
Another male worker said, “It has been like seven months now without overtime payment, and nobody is saying anything. If you ask, they ‘shoo’ you away as if you’re not supposed to ask.”
A female worker, who said she has been with CBH for nearly 30 years said, “It’s been 30 years and I can’t count any money at the bank. It’s a shame,” while another female colleague added, “You can’t even go to the bank to get a loan because they refuse you. Most of the ladies and gentlemen are single parents and that salary cannot go anywhere.”
While Supervisor in the Vector Control Department Trevor Cranston declared that workers wanted “an immediate upgrade in salaries, President of the Antigua & Barbuda Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU) Wigley George said the government wasn’t prepared to upgrade salaries so soon.
“I went to the ministry and met with the permanent secretary. [The government] is waiting for the Budget to be passed and they preferred a six-week period giving the Senate the chance to go and debate the Budget, after which they would have the chance to put things in place for the vector control workers,” George said.
George and Cranston said vector control workers should have been upgraded at the same time as CBH labourers, but, for some reason, were not.
Cranston said there was a document prepared by the Chief Health Inspector Lionel Michael “over a year or two years ago” that laid out the increases. Michael has said that the document was sent to the Ministry of Health as far back as 2015 for inclusion in the 2016 budgetary allocations. Cranston said that at some point that the document was at the level of the Cabinet.
“We want to know what is going on with that document. If it is with them, they need to approve it immediately,” the supervisor said.
With regard to outstanding back pay, George said, “We were advised that the Treasury could not handle the overtime because they are prioritising salaries and wages…the ministry must take cognizance of this and have the vouchers in place so the Treasury can pay when the monies are available.”
In addition to an overdue wage increase and outstanding back pay, Cranston said workers want the chemical storeroom at CBH – currently next door to the vector control office – to be relocated as inhaling the fumes from the chemicals was hazardous to workers’ health.
More in today’s Daily Observer.