BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
IN addition to the unsanitary and odorous nature of their jobs, garbage collectors in Portmore, St Catherine also have to contend with nature's elements as they operate from a makeshift office — a row of trees at the intersection of Passage Fort Drive and the Newlands main road.
An impromptu visit by the Jamaica Observer on Thursday revealed that some 30 workmen contracted to the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) use the makeshift shelter as their point of assembly and dispatch each day.
This has been the case for more than five years, said one garbage collector who identified himself only as 'Nation'.
"We come here in the mornings and the truck come and pick us up and we go on the road. It is a good meeting point because most of us live in Portmore," he explained, noting that he has been working from the spot for roughly seven years.
"We use to be over the plaza, but over there couldn't accommodate the trucks and things, so after a while we just move come over here," he continued in reference to the nearby Dermason Plaza, which was adjacent to the makeshift office.
The 'office' is situated on the banks of a dirty gully along the Newlands main road.
Although not much, the garbage collectors have made good with their quaint 'office'. For starters, they have furnished the space with an old desk and broken chairs on which supervisors like Elkanah Mullings and others can sit and make their daily logs.
The collectors have also cleared the space of bush and unsightly debris, and have even planted fruit trees and vegetables there. Readily they boasted about the merriment that came with the recent reaping of pumpkin they had planted.
"We plant all type of things, man; is just that you come when them (collectors) reap off most of the things them already. We soon get the garden and things back up and running again," Nation said, sporting a proud smile.
But things are not always chirpy at the 'office', the collectors confessed. Operations there are bedevilled by challenges and a need for unique adaptation.
Most problematic, the collectors said, is that whenever it rains they have to run to the nearby plaza for shelter. A similar situation obtains whenever they need to pass bodily waste.
"When we want to use the bathroom we either run go over the plaza or the gas station go use them bathroom. They know that is we, so more time them just accommodate we; they don't hesitate," noted Mullings.
"But the other day I wanted to use the (gas station) bathroom and at the same time the (cleaning) lady was in there cleaning it. I had to run come back over here, jump on my bicycle and ride go home," Mullings recounted, his facial expression depicting the urgency at the time of his ordeal.
Mullings added that when it rains "everything", including his log book, gets wet.
Adding to the collectors' woes is the sweltering heat during the days, and the dearth of potable water. It has become common for the collectors to carry huge bottles of the commodity to the area for drinking and washing purposes, one worker said.
Against this background, they are asking the authorities to provide a (trailer) container from which they can better operate.
"If we could get a container we would be in there instead of running to the plaza for shelter. In there we could have a little bathroom and running water so we wouldn't have to be running to the people them place," said Nation. "It would also be good if we could get some little things like rain coats, Dettol and other disinfectant to wash we hands when we done."
Yesterday, when informed about the garbage collectors' plight, Shauna Guthrie, community relations manager at the NSWMA, explained that it was not the authority's responsibility to provide for contracted workers.
"What we do from time to time is ask them to provide reports to ensure that the (collection) trips are done for verification of payments. We only set out the guidelines for them," she said, noting that the guidelines include dictating the number of trips which should be executed over set periods.
"These are our contractors; some of them are the drivers, some are the owners. Sometimes we will carry out spot checks (on their operations), but it is not something that we would monitor daily. The contractors would deal with their employees," she said.
Guthrie confirmed that the majority of the garbage collectors in Portmore are operating under private contracts, and noted that collectors employed directly by the NSWMA are dispatched from the authority's Hagley Park Road office in Kingston.
Guthrie's response did not come as a surprise to one supervisor who sat nonplussed throughout Thursday's interview.
"I don't join the talking thing. Things could be better, but it don't make no sense we talk. I just come here to do my work and go home," he said.