BELIZE CITY–Next Friday, January 16, a total of 158 sanitation workers who have been employed by the Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) will be absorbed into the workforce of the Belize City Council (CitCo) as part of a transition process that will come into effect upon the expiration of CitCo’s sanitation contract with BML.
After months of dialogue and bargaining with BML and the Christian Workers Union (CWU), which represents the labor interests of the workers, Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley today announced that the workers will be brought on board under a management operation through which they will be placed primarily in two departments headed by former city councilor, Wayne Usher, and CitCo Sanitation Manager, Percival Murillo.
According to Mayor Bradley, only 110 of the workers will actually be employed in the Council’s already brimming Sanitation Department; others will be assigned to sweeping dusty streets, while some will work to address the ongoing drainage issue, and even as security and traffic officers, depending on their specific skill sets.
He said, “We are making sure that the workers themselves through cooperation with their union understand exactly what is happening, that there is no fear that anyone will lose their jobs, and that everyone knows that they will come on board, and everyone knows what is expected of them. By way of the management apparatus, what the City Council has determined to do is to actually divide our management capabilities into two. Previously we had had one sanitation department, which comes under our city engineer. Since this is 158 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, while the other unit will deal with cemetery services, parks, public health and cleaning of the city.”
Bradley went on to explain, “We are doing that specifically to ensure that we can deal with the management of those persons. Beneath the managers, there will be a supervisory level and we are working with the sanitation contractor to ensure that the supervisory level is staffed by some of their [BML] personnel, so that we will take onboard their managers and supervisors who will bring in a second tier of managers who will help us to organize and manage these persons. Then beneath that, you [will] have another level of supervisors and then beneath that, you have the direct persons who are on the ground. Some of these people meet a certain skill set, for example, some of them are supervisors, some of them are security officers—not all of them perform direct sanitation services. So, what we will do is we will reassign those persons who fit the skill set to other areas of the City Council where we have a shortage. For example, right now we need traffic officers; we need some persons to be park wardens, and we will use some of the persons who we don’t need directly on the ground to fill these posts with the Council.”
In late 2014, Mayor Bradley was seemingly having second thoughts about the proposition of hiring all the workers, citing the immense financial strain that CitCo would have to endure, and while he maintained that this move might still be unsustainable in the long run, he noted that the workers will be covered under the recently-signed Municipal Service Regulations, with the CWU as their bargaining representative.
“We recently enacted the Municipal Services Regulations, and what that does is that that conserves tenure on all municipal staff, so that when these people come onboard on the employment of the Belize City Council on the 16 January, they will come as permanent employees, and they will be protected by the tenure provision, meaning that we cannot fire them.
They will be introduced into the regime of the municipality, and we have been working very strenuously over the last 3 years since I have been mayor to really raise the caliber of City Council employees through training and other merit-based incentives.”
After the BML workers staged a daring garbage protest when they learned that their jobs were in jeopardy in early August 2014, Prime Minister Dean Barrow stepped in to temporarily cover the cost of their salaries, and guaranteed that they would all be employed by City Hall when the sanitation company’s contract comes to a close this month.
As a result, the Government of Belize (GOB) had been paying $35,000 weekly to defray the salary expenses of the BML employees, and we understand that GOB also facilitated the transition by procuring $1 million worth of equipment for these new employees.
According to Bradley, Central Government will continue to finance the salaries of the workers until the council can sustain the payments.
He detailed, “We have had to procure 100 weed-whackers just to 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 $1 million. In addition, Central Government has offered to assist to continue to pay the $35,000 only for a temporary period, until CitCo is able to comfortably meet the salary outlays for these additional staff. 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 CitCo can get on its feet to meet the full salary cost of these persons.”
Of note is that BML will be responsible for settling all financial payments to the workers for all their established years of service with the company.
Mayor Bradley told us that the Council will be closely monitoring its budget in order to find ways to keep the initiative going in the absence of new revenue streams to replace the Government subvention and head tax which presently go to paying the $20 million Municipal Bond, of which the first $1.5 million tranche was met last November.
When the employees begin reporting for work, the total staff number at the Belize City Council will reportedly grow from 270 to 428.
CitCo had been paying BML $78,000 weekly for its sanitation services, and Bradley mentioned that the Council’s technical personnel have estimated that it will cost the Council $40,000 per week to provide the same services, which translates to a weekly savings of $38,000.