Call them what you will – trashmen, garbagemen, sanitation specialists, environmental engineers – they regularly make their rounds, certainly not unnoticed but definitely unpraised.
Given recent reports regarding trash piling up on street sides, “management musical chairs” at the Department of Environmental Health, and millions of dollars in overtime expenditures, it would be tempting, but wrong, to blame Cayman’s army of servicemen who actually pick up the garbage, refuse, detritus and discarded home goods from every residence and most businesses on the island.
We have no idea how much these sanitation workers get paid – and, frankly, we have no interest in finding out because we do know this with certainty: It’s not enough.
Consider for a moment what these men do. Long before dawn, while most of us are sleeping, they are crisscrossing the island, making thousands of stops, lifting untold tons of refuse from our curbs into their trucks. They do this, some days, in the pouring rain.
Certainly picking up the trash doesn’t normally conjure up images of romance or glamour. There is, however, a certain choreography of power and grace in the movements of a well-coordinated team of trash collectors – one man behind the wheel, commanding the mastodonic machine (one of Cayman’s biggest beasts?), while the others nimbly alight, quickly attend to the cans and then deftly re-embark with the signal to move on.
(If for an instant, any reader is inclined to marginalize the complexity of collecting Cayman’s trash, consider that this department has achieved what no other private or public entity has been able to do – including the Cayman Islands Postal Service – that is, regularized door-to-door service for every address in the country.)
It is only when the system fails and we are confronted with the evidence of our material existence that we think about the trashmen. (As in: “Where the @*$% are they?!”)
Trash collectors are not, and should not be considered, responsible for managerial policies that have led to far too much trash on Cayman being uncollected in recent weeks.
When government bureaucrats issue a moratorium on overtime for trash collectors, they must have anticipated that such a decision would result in fewer man-hours on the job, exacerbated by increased volumes of refuse during the holiday season and the periodic pick-up of “bulk waste” (discarded furniture and appliances). Clearly there was a miscalculation here.
(Not to be too critical of management, we fully recognize that overtime pay for public sector or private sector workers can quickly get out of control if it is not properly monitored and managed. Employees who receive copious amounts of overtime pay soon become dependent on it, absorbing it into their household budget. Reducing overtime hours significantly, or entirely, almost always results in an unhappy or disgruntled workforce. This is one issue that management cannot afford to leave unattended because, predictably, it will quickly become virtually unmanageable.)
For years, the Compass editorial board has led public discourse on shortcomings in the solid waste system, starting at the top of Mount Trashmore, through the administrative halls of the Department of Environmental Health, and down to the street sides and vacant lots where abandoned vehicles and mounds of garbage accumulate.
While we will continue to scrutinize (and when appropriate, criticize) the government’s solid waste management practices, we are unlikely, ever, to be critical of our cadre of hard-working sanitation workers.
Of one thing we are certain: They work a heck of a lot harder than politicians, white-collar professionals and, yes, journalists.