By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas General Workers Union is expected to announce today that it is now the official bargaining agent for employees of Bahamas Waste, amid several ongoing industrial disputes at the waste management company.
In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, BGWU President Dr Thomas Bastian said the move was "in the works" for some time, insisting employee disputes at the company were often handled in a way which "put workers in a 'suck it up, or leave the job' position."
Dr Bastian said workers, despite issues and concerns, are allegedly told on a daily basis to get the job done or vacate the post.
"The workers approached us nearly two years ago after some of them realised that something was not quite right. From that moment to now, we've tried to work on behalf of these workers and their rights," the veteran trade unionist said.
"Our goal now is for the company to come to the table and negotiate. We have informed them on several occasions that we are now the bargaining agent, they know; it's time to get something done and to place these workers in a better situation."
Asked by The Tribune to expound on conditions the BGWU wanted corrected, Dr Bastian stated: "It's about decency. We want to bring about a level of decency to the day-to-day jobs of these men. We believe that once decency is extended from employer, the persons on the street, the public will follow suit. So, decency, and with that respect."
In a separate interview with The Tribune, several workers suggested work conditions are unfavourable.
"House waste, sewage, your trash, my trash; everything nasty and too dirty to touch, my skin sees and feels all of that every day. All while the people I work for tell me my job isn't hazardous or my job doesn't present any health risks," claimed one employee who asked not to be named.
Another employee, also asking not to be named out of fear of termination, added: "They don't respect us as men or as employees. When we raised an issue about the level of sanitation on the job and what we were being exposed to, we asked for proper healthcare and medical insurance, we got showers. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the shower, that way I don't have to go home to my family with garbage all on me, but still, I'm working around needles and bacteria; is proper medical insurance too much to ask for?"
A third employee, recently treated for an ailment he alleged was work-related, told The Tribune: "When I went to my doctor, it all came out of my pocket. My medicine is in the car now, but when I tell the boss this happened here, he brushed it off and said that was not the case."
This employee is being treated for an infection. To protect the identity of the employee, The Tribune omitted the nature of his infection and his treatment.
In 2016, employees of Bahamas Waste took issue with shipments of biohazardous medical waste, claiming the items posed a threat to working conditions.
In a letter presented to The Tribune at the time, workers alleged that industry regulations specify that biohazardous material should be incinerated prior to pick up and transport to the landfill.
The letter read: "After much consideration, this letter has been drafted to build the country's awareness to some of the most degrading conditions and practices that are (allegedly) being carried out at Bahamas Waste Limited."
The group have alleged that employees at the facility are at risk, as they are allegedly exposed to infected blood samples, used needles and fecal matter.
"With writing this letter it is hoped that some sort of support and assistance be given to the employees and that bad health practices be discontinued," the letter added.
Employees this week said conditions are still the same.
Officials at Bahamas Waste have offered no comment on the matter, despite repeated requests from The Tribune.