WORKERS AT THE Island’s mental hospital and their trade union are calling on the State to evacuate the Mt Gay Housing scheme and shut down the sewer system there, until the sewer problem at the housing settlement is fixed.
The public workers at the facility staged protest action Monday at the Mt Gay Hospital, which shares a boundary with the housing scheme.
After marching to River Road chanting songs and holding placards, the protesters moved their action to the Ministerial Complex at the Botanical Gardens, seeking to get the attention of Health Minister NiKolas Steele.
The workers, who have been affected by the noxious smell coming from the tank and the constant flow of untreated sewer water, have said they will keep up their protest until action is taken to solve the problem.
They have been complaining for several months and letters have been written to the authorities requesting action but it is only now, at the start of street protests, that NAWASA has been brought in to help resolve the issue.
The housing authority had been instructed months ago by the Environmental Health Unit to work with NAWASA to solve the problem but this did not happen.
The sewer serves scores of families in the housing scheme but it has been malfunctioning for almost two years because the Housing Authority of Grenada, which manages the site, has failed to keep up with its maintenance.
Public Relations Officer for the Public Workers Union Brian Grimes said they expect a response from the Minister of Health this week.
The union has written to the minister asking for three things; that he urgently responds to their letter of complaint, that the state apologizes to the workers for having knowledge of the sewer problem and failing to do anything to remedy the situation and they are also asking that the state provides full medical for the affected workers at no charge.
Recently the health minister said they were “caught off guard” regarding the cost of maintaining the system and there was no money.
The workers have vowed to keep up their protest until the system is fixed or shut down and a source said if the problem is not satisfactorily dealt with in a timely manner, workers at the hospital might opt to stay away from work.
The workers took to the streets for a second straight day Tuesday, this time bringing their angst over government’s failure to act, to the city centre.
According to Jennifer Pilgrim, who has worked at the hospital for thirty-nine years, they expected something to be done since last year.
The workers had been informed through a circular that the authorities would begin remedial work on the system at the start of November but the problem persists.
The public workers’ union believes the way the problem has been handled, with little or no concern for the health and safety of the people living and working in the area, is another example of the government being anti-worker.
“Clearly there is great oratory about social partnerships but this tells a different story,” said Grimes.
Grimes said they are concerned for the health of their members who work at the hospital since sewer air can be poisonous when breathed in long term.
“If patriotism is coming here and working in this putrid condition is patriotism then we do not want any part of that kind of patriotism,” Grimes said after getting a firsthand view of the source of the stink that has his union up in arms.
Lyndon Francis who runs a business in the area, said he is also concerned about the water that is constantly flowing in the roadway close to his premises.
He said he is particularly concerned that children are sometimes seen playing in the sewer water, a situation that can result in tragic health consequences.
Francis said the way the sewer system is designed is not the problem.
“It’s a good system, they (housing officials) just didn’t take care of it,” said the businessman.
Also, present at Monday’s protest was Andre Lewis, president of the Technical and Allied Workers Union who came to stand in solidarity with the unhappy workers.
Lewis said the government’s inability to find a solution at Mt Gay does not inspire confidence.
“Could you imagine they can’t clean up their own mess and they want us to take some promise that’s not even in writing that they would deal with the salary negotiation problems,” he commented to this newspaper.
But at government’s weekly news briefing Tuesday the health minister said they are now acting to solve the problem.
Steele was set to meet late Tuesday with representatives from the housing authority, the Ministry of Works, NAWASA and Daniel and Daniel Engineering, which constructed the system.
Steele also gave assurances that a solution would be reached within days which would see the smell coming from the sewer disappear.
But when this newspaper spoke to workers contracted to clean the tank they estimated that using the bucket and spade at their disposal, they would be working for at least four weeks. This means the tank, which has been uncovered for almost two weeks will remain so for the duration.
It was suggested that the entire tank be uncovered and heavy machinery used to empty the putrid contents but it is not clear whether this will be done, as cost has been a major factor.