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Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says that the Government will not be cutting the salaries of the Community-based Environmental, Protection, and Enhancement Company Ltd (CEPEP) employees. However, he said, for the period that they are home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they will receive two-thirds of their salary.

“They will now get it as a grant like other people who have lost their means. So what they are getting is not 3/4 of their salary. It was not put to you properly. It is not a cut in salary. It is that the programme has been shut down as we don’t want them out there. While the programme has been shut down, they get a grant,” he said while speaking at the COVID-19 media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, on Saturday.

The PM, explaining why the Government made this decision, said “If we had shut the programme down and say ok, let them go to the social support ministry for the grants, all that would have done is send 10,000 people to the ministry to create more problems. We know who those people are as we have them in a programme. So they are getting their grants through that programme.”

The Ministry of Rural and Local Government in a media release on Friday clarified the position of the ministry following an earlier release by CEPEP, saying that there was a 33 per cent salary cut.

In the release, CEPEP stated that during the monthly meetings of CEPEP’s Board of Directors on May 26, a decision was taken by the Board to temporarily reduce the management fees of contractors and their workers. The decision took effect on Friday.

CEPEP in its release said that while the decision was “contentious”, it directly protects the welfare of workers as there will be no job losses.

CEPEP also said the decision was taken to reduce the period of work to four hours per day, reduce the teams’ by 50 per cent so that each worker will work two days a week and their salaries will be reduced by 33.3 per cent.

The ministry’s release stated, “While we appreciate and understand the importance that these workers play in the maintenance of our environment, we chose to follow the directive of our public health officials, to safeguard their lives and in keeping with the national effort to prevent the spread of the Novel Coronavirus. This decision took effect on May 17, 2021. Following the shutdown of said field operations, it should be noted that these employees will receive a salary grant equal to two-thirds of the normal wages afforded to them by the company, although they are not working in the field at this time.”

The ministry said CEPEP has over 9,000 field workers which comprise contractors, operators and labourers who are exposed daily, as essential sanitation workers.

The media release quoted Rural Development and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein as saying: “COVID-19 is not a joke and we must look out for those who work hard to ensure our communities are clean and safe. We must do our part in the national public health effort. Together, we will win this fight and soon we will return to a sense of normalcy but for now, we must do what is necessary to protect the lives of all citizens.”

In January, Finance Minister Colm Imbert had said that there was no intention “at this time” to reduce the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and CEPEP programmes, especially in the current pandemic environment since it is some people’s sole source of income.

He was replying to Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine’s query on possible changes in the programmes and others.