Easy to blame OBA for trash problems
It's easy to blame the One Bermuda Alliance for the problems that have been causing breakdowns and delays with buses, ferries and garbage trucks, as Shadow Minister of Public Works Dennis Lister did in a statement a short time ago.
But that's a simplistic view of a problem that has complicated causes. We all know that; we're just trying hard not to talk about it for some reason. The causes are in the public service, not in the political arm of the Government. Cabinet ministers don't maintain vehicles.
Here's one part of the problem: the blue-collar workers who use these vehicles have, over years, got used to wages swelled every week by a certain amount of overtime. The bill is pretty big. The Government tried to cut back because of the economic situation and the result was a sudden and dramatic increase in vehicles being put out of service.
Here's another part of it: there are only two lifts at the quarry, so only two vehicles can be worked on at any time. Some of our garbage trucks have been out of service for several years.
And another: the mechanics maintain the entire fleet of government vehicles — with the exception of buses — so they are always stretched. It's the people who drive the vehicles who put them on report, saying they need to be fixed. It would be interesting to analyse how many have been sent in for repair of minor ailments, such as needing a new bulb or a mirror, and whether those repairs can be fast-tracked or result in long waits in the repairs queue.
And another: until recently, the Bermuda Industrial Union prevented trash being picked up in open-back trucks and also wouldn't agree to have maintenance outsourced. It has now agreed that the maintenance can be done in outside shops as long as they are unionised.
The BIU will not agree to split shifts using the roadworthy trucks. While they wait for their trucks to be repaired, drivers and their crews do nothing. They sit around, waiting for some evening and weekend overtime. They're paid double time for weekend overtime. Here's yet another part of the problem: it's people in the Civil Service who pick which vehicles to buy for their fleets. Do we get the best we can get?
A number of the garbage trucks in the Works and Engineering fleet were bought in 2012, and are now regularly being taken out of service for repairs. How is it that these trucks are having problems, some of them quite significant, after only three years? The older trucks are holding up well. Are the new ones a bunch of lemons?
If the Government bit the bullet and gave the maintenance work, all of it or some of it, permanently to a private contractor, the problems would surely dwindle to a manageable level. But you can imagine the political storm that would cause, with unions, Opposition and the Rev Nicholas Tweed all in full cry.
The result is that, in large measure, we are being held to ransom by workers who don't seem to care much what pain they inflict on the community, as long as they get what they want. Meantime, those in the Civil Service who are meant to be responsible for the management of the workers are happy to stand to one side and let the OBA take the blame.