Las Cuevas beach, which was once the only beach in the Southern Caribbean to earn the coveted environmental Blue Flag certification, is now the scene of overflowing garbage as sanitation workers protest for new equipment and better work conditions.
“We don’t like this action that is being taken here but we have no choice,” said a worker representative.
Since July 20, the workers attached to the Facility Management Unit of the Lifeguard Services at Las Cuevas have been refusing to clean the beach to press their demand for tools such as rakes and weed-whackers and sanitation gear such as gloves, disinfectant, insect repellent and garbage bags. As they spoke to Cari-Bois Environmental News Network, three large mounds of garbage could be seen around overflowing bins. A total of 19 workers are involved in the protest, 14 of whom were rostered and present at the time of the interview. Keeping the beach clean is one of their primary duties.
“Over 5 months now we have been querying for tools right. Every time we ask, they say it coming,” the spokesperson said. “We love our work. We want to perform our duty to make the place look good,” they continued.
The workers say they have had enough of the horrors of clearing worm-riddled garbage bins, cleaning beach facilities and navigating swarms of sandflies without a consistent supply of the basic necessities. The spokesperson for the group said they will not resume work until the Ministry of National Security, which is responsible for oversight of their unit, addresses their concerns.
The spokesperson said that their difficulties began five years ago when oversight for their unit was transferred from the Ministry of Tourism to the Ministry of National Security. The entire group nodded in unison when it was suggested by one worker that a ministry dedicated to security concerns may not have a full appreciation for the type of work that they do in keeping the place beautiful. “When we went under National Security, then we start to go downhill,” the spokesperson said.
Up until 2016, Las Cuevas was the only beach in Trinidad and Tobago certified internationally as a Blue Flag Beach for maintaining high standards of environmental management. The workers who said they often received praise for this achievement now feel taken for granted.
“Really and truly, the little that we had, we tried to compromise with it so our work was still being done,” the spokesperson said as the others showed off examples of tools they had purchased out of their own pockets in order to get their jobs done. The spokesperson said they would even pool resources sometimes to replenish basic necessities like gloves, disinfectant, mosquito repellant and garbage bags.
Arlene Williams, President of the Las Cuevas Eco-friendly Association, expressed sympathy for the plight of the workers and said this was the first time she had ever seen anything like this taking place in Las Cuevas. “These workers are always out here doing their best in order to keep this beach clean, so to see this, it’s really sad,” she lamented.
Williams said that her biggest concern as an environmentalist was the fact that the protest is occurring during the nesting season for the Leatherback Sea Turtles which started on March 1 and continues to August 31.
“You seeing the type of rubbish on the beach, mostly plastic and Styrotex, when these get into the water, this is what the turtles will eat and that will cause them to die.”
For this reason, Williams is hoping that the problem can be resolved quickly. Williams joined the sanitation workers in expressing confusion over the transfer of the unit to the Ministry of National Security.
“Back then, when they were under the Ministry of Tourism, they used to get more. They used to take more persons from the village into the work and now everything is just at standstill under this new ministry,” she said, adding that “maintenance shouldn’t fall under that seeing that this is a beach – this is tourism.” In responding to concerns expressed by the sanitation workers in an article by Loop TT, Minister of National Security Stuart Young said he is looking into the matter and that he has asked the permanent secretary at his ministry to prepare a report to help him better understand the issues being faced by the unit. Cari-Bois Environmental News Network also reached out to the Minister but is yet to receive a response.