The unleashed increase in infections by the omicron variant has left the staff of many companies in the dark. Infections, casualties and close contacts have forced companies to organize as best they can, especially in functions where teleworking is not an option. This is the case of the Besòs Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP Besòs), one of the plants of the Aigües de Barcelona company, which cannot stop working if the water cycle in the city is to be guaranteed. As they did at the beginning of the pandemic, in 2020, a group of workers has confined themselves to the sewage treatment plant parking lot and live in motorhomes so as not to get infected and to be able to continue working. There are 14 employees in six vehicles, who work in two shifts. Adherence to this measure has been voluntary, and the company, which bears the costs of accommodating its workers, compensates them with a supplement of 1,000 euros per week, according to close sources.
Felipe Campos, the CEO of Aigües de Barcelona, whose main shareholder is Agbar, thanked the employees on Wednesday for the effort that allows them to keep the treatment plant active. “Commitment, solidarity and generosity is what our workers show every day. They have done it again. Many thanks to those who have confined themselves to the Besòs WWTP to guarantee the essential service of the integral water cycle. You are an example for us,” Campos said on social media. In a statement, the company highlighted that the operation of the treatment plant ensures that water continues to reach almost three million inhabitants of the Barcelona metropolitan area, and that the confinement of these workers in the workplace ensures safety and health of the employees.
The system is the same that was carried out at the beginning of the pandemic. The 14 self-contained workers have been living in the motorhomes since last January 4. They will be two weeks, and if the epidemiological situation does not improve and the incidence of infections in the squad remains high, they will be relieved by another team. The company has installed the motorhomes, has a catering service for the workers and “guarantees all the means and services they may need during their stay at the plant,” the statement said. This measure is combined with following a security protocol through periodic antigen tests, the use of masks and individual protection equipment, and the disinfection of motorhomes. Last year, the company carried out 7,000 tests on its professionals.
“This station has to be open all the time, and the level of casualties was very high, to the point that we suffered in case we were left without the reserve team that always has to be prepared. That is why a confinement was agreed like the one that was done in 2020, to prevent further infections, ”explains Carlos Cruz, general secretary of the UGT in Aigües de Barcelona. The trade unionist highlights that self-confinement is voluntary, and that the conditions for economic compensation have already been agreed since 2020. “The volunteers go out, because it is well paid, and because they are responsible for having to carry out their task,” he highlights. “But it’s hard, they leave there quite tired, because they are practically alone for many days,” he adds.
The supplement is about 1,000 euros net for the self-confined worker, according to close sources. The company does not confirm this amount, and considers that “the focus has to be to guarantee the water service.” The demand to enter this self-isolation program was higher than was needed, the sources say.
Isabel Rodríguez, general secretary of CC OO in the company, explains that given the increase in infections, the company had already foreseen the need before Christmas, and had “stockpiled” motorhomes for the different treatment plants, Besòs, Sant Joan Despí and El Prat, but in the end they have only been necessary to protect the Besòs workforce, since that is where infections increased. About 50 people normally work at the Besòs WWTP. “Now there are 14 who are working two shifts a day. In 2020, it did come again, but people were very happy with the experience, since there is catering, mobiles and laptops are given to talk with relatives. They make pineapple between them. For many it was an enriching experience, for others it was more difficult”, he highlights. The trade unionist explains that the adhesion has been completely voluntary, and that when it was decided, the possibility that there would be no volunteers was not contemplated, since “they were clear that the water workers would look to provide the service.”
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