After months of grappling with the issue and public pronouncements that the plan would not be sustainable by Mayor Darrell Bradley, on Tuesday the Belize City Council announced what appears to be more than a breakthrough. In fact, it effectively resolves the issue of the transition of workers for Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) to the Council, just in time for the Municipal Elections in March. It comes after public pressure caused by the littering the workers did in front of his office in protest of their suspected departure.
Next Friday, January 16, the Council’s ranks officially swell by 158 workers, ranging from ordinary street cleaners to senior supervisors and managers. However, not all the workers will continue to work in sanitation. Only 110 will actually be employed in that department, or rather two departments created by the Council.
Mayor Bradley details the new work plan at a press briefing held at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.
“By way of the management apparatus, what the City Council has determined to do is to actually divide our management capabilities in two. Previously we had had one sanitation department, which comes under our city engineer. Since this is a hundred and fifty-eight workers, we will have to divide that management into two departments.
Each of these sanitation units will deal with certain aspects of our sanitation services. For example one of the departments will deal strictly with garbage collection and residential and household issues. Whereas another unit will deal with cemetery services, parks, public health and cleaning of the city.”
Specific work crews will be detailed to address the ongoing drainage issue and sweeping dusty streets, while excess personnel, particularly those with some education, will be transferred into departments that have need of their specific skills. Central Government will aid City Hall with $1 million of new equipment and according to the Mayor, for a brief period, continue to finance the salaries of these workers.
Mayor Darrell Bradley
“We have had to procure a hundred weed-whackers, just facilitate the transition. All of that is being paid for by the Central Government. We are getting additional backhoes. We are getting additional dump trucks. We are getting additional bulldozers, equipment that we can clean drains on a more quick method, and all of this is being funded by the Central Government to the tune of one million dollars. So they are procuring one million dollars worth of equipment of the municipality.
In addition, the Central Government has offered to assist to continue to pay the thirty-five thousand dollars only for a temporary period, until the City Council is able to comfortably meet the salary outlays for these additional staff. So as members of the media will remember that the Central Government had stepped in when we had the protest, and they had committed to meet the salary cost for the staff members from that date up until this date, which is the transition period.
The Prime Minister had indicated that he will continue that, but only for a temporary period, until the City Council can get on its feet to meet the full salary cost of these persons.”
BML will be responsible for settling all financial payments to its former workers, as the Council’s employment does not take into account their established years of service. The Council has paid down its arrears to within 5 weeks of current expenditure, and expect to clear all debt, save a judgment debt from 7 years ago, by the end of February.
The workers will be covered under the recently-signed Municipal Service Regulations and have rights to join the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) as their bargaining representative. But what makes this plan sustainable for City Hall? Mayor Bradley told Plus News that it’s a matter of management.
Mayor Darrell Bradley
“It is a problem, and I’m indicating to you that it is a problem, but one of the purposes of the press briefing is to indicate to members of the public, so that we’re satisfied that we’re managing the problem well., dealing with the sanitation contractors for the last two and a half going on for three years, that is a problem.
The debt service of the City Council is a problem. Government generally is a problem, but as long as we can satisfy members of the public that we’re paying off our debts, we’re ensuring that we can pay salaries and we can keep the light on, and on top of all of that we can assure members of the public that the various park initiatives that we have done, the various road works that we have done, all of these are the things we can continue to a high level of performance. That is what government is about.
So to say that the problem with BML and the issue with the workers is unsustainable, is not to say that we’re not managing a transition.”
Mayor Bradley told us that the Council will be crunching its budget numbers and coming up with ways to keep the employment going, in absence of new sources of revenue to replace the locked-up subvention and head tax, which goes to paying the municipal bond. The first tranche of that $20 million instrument valued at $1.5 million was met last November.