1024742
Flashback February 2018: WASA workers fix a leaking water line at Lower High Street, San Fernando.

Workers at the cash-strapped Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) have agreed to take a pay cut in a bid to save the flagging state company from going belly up.

This was one of several recommendations WASA employees put forward to their chairman and executive director Dr Lennox Sealy as the water company moves to reduce spending.

WASA has 4,828 employees and 426 managers

The report of the Cabinet-sub committee into the operations of WASA found that the utility was “exceedingly top-heavy, dysfunctional, unproductive” and a drain on taxpayers.

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales under whose purview WASA falls told Guardian Media the responses Sealy received from some WASA staff had been more than favourable.

“I am telling you all is not lost at WASA. The employees inside of WASA… they know what has to be done to turn around the organisation.”

Gonzales said the workers know where the leakages and haemorrhaging have been taking place.

Sealy’s bulletin reminded the employees that as an emerging nation, WASA which services the public has to take responsibility for running its affairs.

“We no longer have options,” Sealy told the workers.

He stated that his first initiative is “cost reduction, revenue collection and regularisation programme.”

In terms of cost reduction, Sealy invited all employees to make recommendations for ways in which WASA can reduce its spending. “In this regard, there are no sacred cows. All suggestions are welcome whether it pertains to executive salaries, lease costs or even electricity and telephone costs or rental costs,” Sealy wrote.

Gonzales said the workers’ recommendations, which he saw two weeks ago, blew his mind.

“They recommended a reduction in their salaries…the bonuses and some of the allowances that they currently enjoy.”

The report, which will be laid in Parliament on Friday, stated that the practice of overtime is endemic and has emerged as a standard operating practice, particularly in the security department which has the highest attributable percentage of overtime cost.

Based on WASA’s collective agreements with the three trade unions—the Public Services Association (PSA), National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) and Estate Police Association, its workers are paid 27 allowances including double and triple time.

Between 2016 and 2020, WASA employees racked up a $468.3 million overtime bill.

For the same period, WASA also paid out $17 million in bonuses and $7 million in gratuities.

The utility also forked out $142 million in the rental of vehicles from 2016 to 2020.

Gonzales said there were other aspects the employees believed WASA could save on.

“Imagine employees telling you that the PSA and the NUGFW, who are occupying buildings inside of WASA free of charge, it is time to charge them rent. That came from the employees. I was not even aware that these unions were occupying buildings inside of WASA rent-free.”

Asked if this was an option they may look at, Gonzales replied “that is something that management will have to deal with because remember it is managers who have allowed that to happen. All these areas and bad practices that developed over the years ought to be reversed. But you need a strong team of managers who are prepared to take some of those difficult decisions.”