(Trinidad Guardian) Thousands of workers at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) are facing retrenchment as the state-owned utility is to be restructured. Public Utilities Minister Emmanuel George told yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, that WASA had about 4,800 workers, an increase from 2,033 in 2000. He said before 2000, WASA was restructured to allow it to have just over 2,000 workers, and that complement was considered adequate for the utility’s efficient operations at that time. In subsequent years, he said, the former PNM government increased the workforce to the current figure of more than 4,000. “So that you had approximately 2,800 persons put into the utility and you had no improvement in the water supply to the population over that period,” he added.
“One wonders what that extra 2,800 people were brought into WASA to do.” The minister said the National Water and Sewerage Company of Uganda had been contracted to conduct the restructuring exercise which is expected to address how WASA does its business to make it operate more effectively in supplying water. Asked specifically if the restructuring might include cuts in the utility’s workforce, George said: “Well, it is a restructuring, and it may well result in a reduction in the labour force.” George said since 2010, when he first hinted at the restructuring, “nobody has been laid off at WASA…I never said that we are going to lay them off.” He reiterated, however, that “in any restructuring, one expects that there could be some reduction of the numbers.” George quickly added: “I can’t tell you what the numbers would be.” He said the exercise is expected to be completed by August or September and the Government would have to decide whether to accept the recommendations when they are presented. George was unable to give the cost of the restructuring exercise, but said the Government’s annual subsidy to WASA is more than TT$1 billion.
Earlier, he announced that Cabinet had approved a 100 per cent increase in the annual subsidy for beneficiaries under the Utility Assistance Programme (UAP). That programme helps disadvantaged people (pensioners and recipients of public assistance) pay their water and electricity bills. He said as at December 2011, 10,739 people were benefiting from the programme. There was a provision for an annual review of the subsidies, and after the last review it was decided to increase the subsidy by 100 per cent, he added. Those who get an annual subsidy of TT$70 will now receive a subsidy of TT$140 and those who get $100 will now receive TT$200. With respect to the annual subsidy for electricity, George said it will increase from TT$342 to TT$684. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the Government’s intention to increase the subsidies during the anniversary celebration of her election as leader of the United National Congress on January 24.