KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, May 16, IWN – Workers at the Irrigation Authority should not have been a position where they had to complain to the media about not being paid since October, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says.
The workers took to the media last month complaining about disconnected utility services, inability to send their children to school and repossessed hire purchased items as the Authority has failed to pay them since October.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, told a press conference on Tuesday that is not true that the workers were not paid since October.
He, however, added that the non-payment of the workers for “two or three months has nothing to do with absence of resources”.
“It has simply to do with inefficiencies and inadvertencies by persons who are responsible to ensure that you do not have such inefficiencies and inadvertencies,” he said.
Gonsalves noted that the Authority has someone in charge. He further added that public servants are responsible to ensure that state entities get the subventions needed to pay their staff.
This, he said, is especially important for an entity like the Irrigation Authority that is not a money-making enterprise.
Gonsalves said that while the workers told the media that they turned up to work everyday, “they didn’t say that they turned up to work and worked everyday.”
Since Hurricane Tomas in late 2010 and the April Floods of 2011, the irrigation system has been destroyed or damaged severely, Gonsalves said.
“If somebody is working with you and you haven’t terminated them, and they turn up to work, you have to pay them,” he said.
“But, if you do not have a reasonable expectation that you are not going to fix the irrigation system within a short period of time, the sensible thing to do is to sever them. Pay them their severance pay and help to find work for them elsewhere.”
He further said that he was told at a Cabinet committee meeting that the Authority was in the process of resolving the situation.
“So, there is a continuation of turning up to work, for which payment must be made,” Gonsalves said.
“If some work is still to be done in irrigation, it is for the Authority to say which workers can be brought into the Ministry of Agriculture to do some continuing work and which workers are not needed, and let us try to find alternative employment for those. It is not a large number of workers … But this should not have happened,” he said.
“I haven’t seen any newspaper ask this question, but it is an important question to ask: those who are in charge, did they get pay? I want you to ask that question, because I haven’t heard them complain that they haven’t got pay,” the Prime Minister further said.