by Sheria Braithwaite
Faulty equipment, poor working conditions and a shortage of vehicles on the School Meals Department (SMD) are the important aspects contributing to hundreds of scholars getting their lunches as much as two hours late.
That was the assertion of a bunch of 80 SMD employees who’re being backed by the National Union of Public Employees (NUPW).
After Barbados TODAY published an article on Thursday which stated that the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Association of Public Primary School Principals were demanding answers about why lunch delivery was habitually behind schedule because the start of the term, the employees reached out to this newspaper to make clear the situation.
The group’s spokesperson, who has been working in the federal government department for well over a decade, said her colleagues were going beyond the decision of duty to make sure the nation’s children were fed however the situation on the SMD was not ideal.
The employee, who didn’t wish to be identified, explained that there have been two shift systems – 6 a.m. and 10 a.m – with the previous being accountable for delivering lunch and the latter tasked with preparing for the next day.
The employee said that for the past 15 years, staff have been crying out for higher equipment and though efforts were made to repair and/or upgrade the facilities, it was not enough.
In consequence, she said, employees clocked in as early as 4:30 a.m. most days to start out cooking lunch within the event that the equipment “slowed down” or decided to “not work”.
“No one understands what we undergo. We are available in early because now we have a commitment to the nation’s children but management has told us that if we are available in sooner than our shift we’re accountable for ourselves,” she said.
“There are about eight or so five-to seven-foot business kitchen steam kettles and a few days 4 might not be working and though you’ve got to attend for them to chill, which might take hours, we wash them out and reuse them so the kids can get their meals. And this isn’t secure, because this stuff produce massive amounts of warmth.
“We also must endure uncomfortable work conditions. Lots of the kitchens wouldn’t have working extraction fans and the warmth is killing staff. Imagine sweating like a dog in an environment that was not built for cooking. We were told that a number of the buildings were too old for new fans to be installed,” the spokesperson said.
She said day by day was not the identical and on the times when the equipment posed no challenges, lunch, which isn’t authorised to depart the 4 catchment areas before 9 a.m., is delivered on time once the primary set of meals leave at the moment.
The cook said the most recent time lunch left the kitchen was 1:45 p.m.
“We will’t say that the managers don’t try, but each time we ask for new stuff we don’t get it. We don’t get enough money from central government and each 12 months they cut it. They do repairs or replacements in some instances but I don’t know whether it is a case where the machines are so overworked that they begin to malfunction.
“For instance, every September after we start back work the machines don’t give us an issue – you’d are likely to get that occuring later down within the term – cause they were resting for weeks. But I don’t know if the Summer Nutrition programme [which ran from July 25 to September 2] had anything to do with it because the equipment was working greater than usual,” she added.
The SMD employee also complained that there was a shortage of kitchen staff in some instances, with employees being retasked to serve lunch at schools. She added that the department needed more vans to deliver the lunches.
Because it pertains to the menu, the spokesperson for the SMD employees said the department was getting fewer and fewer supplies of ingredients to provide the meals flavour and a number of the fruit and veggies sourced weren’t at all times one of the best quality.
There are 4 kitchens under the SMD. The ability in Lancaster, St James supplies lunches to varsities within the north and western parts of the island and the one in Harbour Road, St Michael is accountable for the faculties within the central zone.
The kitchen in Country Road, St Michael also services schools within the central area in addition to a small portion of the east, while the kitchen at St Christopher, Christ Church supplies schools along the South Coast and nearly all of the eastern schools.
Deputy general secretary of the NUPW Wayne Walrond said that he was aware of the challenges the employees have been experiencing for a few years, noting that the workers sometimes even pulled their pockets to ensure that schoolchildren were fed.
“That is years that the equipment has been breaking down and we all know that employees even bring things from home and buy things to get the work done. That’s the level of commitment [they have]. They arrive out within the wee hours of the morning in an effort to ensure that meals are done on time,” he said.
Walrond said he was concerned that staff were exposing themselves to unnecessary heat by reusing uncooled steam kettles to cook more food when other kettles broke down, adding that some employees developed infections over time due to the extraordinary heat.
The senior NUPW official said a number of the kitchens were old and never built for his or her current use.
“People will come down on School Meals [Department] but they need the resources to do the job and the union thinks the employees make sacrifices to make sure the meals are prepared in time.
“I believe there must be consultation with all of the relevant authorities to see how we will best reply to the resources which might be needed immediately. So the NUPW stands by the employees who’re committed and show dedication,” he declared.
Walrond said he also desired to know what was the delay regarding the development of a new school meals centre at Farm Gardens, St Philip.
Efforts to succeed in Acting Manager of the School Meals Department Dawn Browne were unsuccessful.