By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
SOCIAL workers at the Department of Social Services in Grand Bahama called in sick yesterday, joining their other colleagues in a sick-out that affected many parts of the country.
Garth Russell, shop steward at Bahamas Public Service Union in Freeport, told The Tribune that over 70 social workers called in sick and did not report to work in Grand Bahama.
“I am still trying to get the numbers, and it may be over 70 persons in Freeport and all the way into Eight Mile Rock,” he said.
Mr Russell, a family service officer, said social workers are tired and frustrated of being overlooked by the government.
“We are underpaid and overworked,” he said. “Our administrators and government are not taking us seriously. We feel disrespected, marginalised, powerless, useless, and sick, and that is why we are (out sick) today collectively.”
Mr Russell said that social workers are particularly concerned about the implementation of the 2016 career path that negatively affects social workers.
“We came out of a meeting last week with administrators who are trying to implement a career path. It is an old scale. We are living in 2021, not 2016 and it is not relevant to meeting our family and educational needs— that to us is a slap in the face,” he said.
He claimed that social workers have yet to see this career path document and their requests for a copy of it have been ignored for almost two years.
Mr Russell said the position of trainee welfare officer is supposed to be held for one year, but there are persons who are still holding the same title after eight years.
“This trainee position is being worn by persons who should be in senior welfare officer positions,” he explained.
He stated that the career path has sought to change the title of trainee welfare officer to assistant social worker. He said that it unfairly affects trainee welfare officers with bachelor’s degrees. “So, this is still a slap in the face because it does not give them a promotion, it is just a renaming of the positions, and they cannot advance themselves to the next level, unless they have a certificate in social work,” he said.
The shop steward estimates that about 50 percent of social workers are affected by this in Freeport and in the country.
Mr Russell believes this is unfair and self-serving that only those at the top – some without master’s degrees - can only advance to the next level under the career path.
The union official also touched another sensitive issue that is impacting workers’ morale.
The situation, he said, has caused division among social workers.
“There is a war and fractions among the different groups of persons employed at Social Services regarding the 52-week workers and the work programme people. The 52-week workers are appointed temporary month to month. The work programme people are waiting to be appointed by the public service. Additionally, several persons were appointed and are awaiting confirmation to (be) permanent and pensionable.”
Mr Russell said social workers have still not gotten their retroactive pay since 2016 and are not even considered essential workers. He said their pay scales are lower than many of other colleagues in the civil service.
“Whenever it is time for us to get something from the government regarding increasing our salaries…we are not being prioritised as our other colleagues in the various ministries.
“Social workers are degree professionals. They are not someone you take off the street. They go through training at the university level and need a four-year degree as qualification to enter as a professional,” he said.