GEBE power plant workers fed up about several issues

CAY BAY–Workers at the power plant at utilities company GEBE are fed up over several issues including their working conditions and the company’s hiring and training policies.

Minister of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Development and Infrastructure VROMI Christophe Emmanuel told reporters at the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday, that he is aware that the power plant workers are frustrated about certain issues and indicated that there was a possible strike or walkout at the power plant yesterday. He said also that there were persons on the ground who were attempting to “quiet down the situation.”

St. Maarten Communications Union (SMCU) President Ludson Evers and GEBE Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Iris Arrindell both indicated that there was no strike or walkout at the facility Wednesday. Arrindell declined to comment on the concerns of the workers and indicated that the company will probably issue a press release on the matter.

Evers said, however, that the union’s shop steward contacted the union and indicated that the workers were fed up and frustrated. The shop steward was advised to speak to the workers. It is understood that the company also sent a senior official to speak to the workers and address their concerns. Evers said the workers were concerned about two issues: one was a personal matter involving an employee and the other matter was concerns over the company’s hiring and training practices.  

Evers said workers were against the company’s plans to hire a Jamaican national as a mechanic at the power plant and believes that the company should instead train one of the seasoned locals within the company for the position. The workers are also concerned that a Curaçao national, in his 50s was brought in and placed in a supervisory position. The workers claimed that while GEBE is affording this person the opportunity to undergo training, similar training can be offered to locals in the company to take up senior positions at GEBE, where their remuneration prospects can be enhanced.

The workers believe that the company already has too many foreigners in its employ, which management says are qualified. The workers fear that if the company keeps hiring foreigners, who the company says are experienced, seasoned staff at the company will not get opportunities to go on training to obtain the qualifications needed for those positions. Evers said he was not aware of what the specific positions are.

Also of concern to the workers is the unsafe, unhygienic and in some cases environmentally unhealthy conditions under which they work. Evers said the employees are working, in some cases, under terrible conditions. He said since September 2016, several months after the union began representing the workers; it had been behind management to address the conditions under which its membership works.

He said the union had done a tour of the facilities in March last year, when it witnessed the working conditions first hand. The union took pictures and made a report of the situation and urged management to address them. A complaint was also made to the Inspectorate of Labour. Evers said the Inspectorate did an inspection of the premises recently and the union understands that a report is being compiled of the breaches and that the company will be given a specific time within which to address the violations after which a re-inspection will take place.

If the company fails to correct the issues according to the stipulations of the Inspectorate, Evers said the union will have to consider other options. The union said it was promised a copy of the report from the inspectorate once completed.

He said the violations include mechanics working on slippery ground, which is a high risk of them falling while working. He said special flooring will have to be installed to reduce the risk of this occurring. He said also that workers indicated that they have to wear special clothing when they are going into the power plant to tend to “the heart of the engine.” Many equipment parts also have to be cleared up from around the premises.

At the main building in Philipsburg, Evers said the vent of the air conditioning unit is filled with dust. He said while the company had changed the duct system, the old ceiling tiles remain and it is filled with dust. A mould scent also emanates from the storeroom at company’s location in Sucker Garden and large fans have to be installed for the heat in the building. The area, where employees eat also has to be cleaned.

Evers said he personally believed that the current management team lacked experience when it comes to working with employees. “They are concentrating on the operational aspects of the company and dedicate less time to employees who have to do the job,” Evers said.

He said also that the company’s appraisal system is unfair since it rewards workers, who score differently with the same merit increases. He said also that the appeal system is biased. The union recommended a different system to the company and is awaiting management’s response to this suggestion.

Evers said for now, he is awaiting the report from the inspectorate and will wait and see how the company handles the matter and corrects the issues.

Source: The Daily Herald