Minister: $100K overtime paid for trash collection

The Cayman Islands Department of Environmental Health was paying staff $100,000 per month in overtime for garbage collection as of late 2017, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour revealed Friday in the Legislative Assembly.

Since the start of this year, those costs have been cut to about $25,000 per month, Mr. Seymour said, after 10 temporary staff members were brought in to assist with “mission critical” areas of the department.

Minister Seymour, responding to concerns from other assembly members about delays in trash retrieval, said problems during June were related to a backlog created during the previous weeks.

“All trucks are currently operational and routes are fully staffed,” Mr. Seymour said, adding that there were some lower than usual levels of employee attendance due to “employee illness and vacation” at the Department of Environmental Health.

Mr. Seymour also acknowledged ongoing garbage collection difficulties in Cayman Brac, where he said collections in West End would resume Friday.

“I cannot promise that these challenges will end imminently. We are doing everything in our power to provide reliable, consistent service,” Mr. Seymour said. “No one is more anxious than myself to see this situation improve and normalize.”

A staff dispute that occurred in fall 2017 concerning overtime pay and difficulties with operating some of the government’s garbage trucks led to persistent delays in trash collection and recommendations for an internal audit at Cayman’s Department of Environmental Health.

On Nov. 24, 2017, the department issued a press release apologizing to residents for delays in garbage collection. However, delays persisted beyond that date and the government noted they had been caused “by unavailability of some of the garbage collection trucks.”

Ministry of Health Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn confirmed in December that there had been “an escalation” of overtime at the Department of Environmental Health within the past 18 months.

“The ministry has asked for [the] Internal Audit [Service] to look at the situation,” Ms. Ahearn said. “There are no funds unaccounted for at Department of Environmental Health.”

According to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, the first part of that audit has been completed but a secondary review was still under way. Mr. Manderson said recently that neither review had been released publicly.

In May, Mr. Manderson apologized on behalf of the civil service for the situation, and promised that it would be solved soon.

He blamed a combination of equipment problems, staff shortages, staff absenteeism and issues with the management of overtime at the Department of Environmental Health for persistent problems with roadside collections.

The deputy governor said at the time that a number of employees at the Department of Environmental Health had been disciplined, adding that these workers were letting themselves, their colleagues and the community down through non-attendance and poor performance.

Still uncertain is the fate of Environmental Health Director Roydell Carter, who has been on unspecified leave from the department since late last year.

Mr. Seymour said Friday that a study of trash pickup routes was being undertaken now to improve efficiency and reduce time required to be spent in each area. He said that review would take about three months.

In the meantime, he said some private sector waste services were being used to help “catch up” on trash collection.

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