“[…] Management issues and problems receiving salaries [caused me to leave my previous jobs to work at CEPEP]. Some employers treat you like dogs, talking to you anyhow, making you work long ridiculous hours for little money.
“My last full-time job, I worked for three months as a cleaner without any salary. The company kept saying they did not receive outstanding cheque payments to pay out staff… I had to ask myself, ‘this making any sense’?”
Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday Trinbagonians in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’
Today, we get up-close and personal with a young female employee contracted to the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP):
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Takie David, and I am 26 years of age. I am a twin; however, my brother died due to his affiliation in gang violence. I have no children and no husband because I cannot support that yet. I identify myself as a talented young woman that is multi-skilled for sure. I am a lover of several sports, but football is my favourite. Football is my heart and soul, I play it and I keep up with all the leagues.
Football, what team you rep?
‘Team Chelsea’ all the way!
You mentioned being multi-skilled; what skills do you possess?
I managed to complete a few certified courses in building maintenance, plumbing and culinary arts. I can cook, bake, build a house, fix your plumbing issues and beat you in a game of football. What other woman you know can do that eh!
How long have you been employed at CEPEP?
I have been employed with CEPEP for over 6 years.
So tell us, what does a day as an Environmental Worker look like?
My day starts at about 4:30am. I check in on my grandmother just to make sure she is okay and I prepare breakfast for us. I proceed to work, which is whatever site I am assigned to that day. When I arrive, I confirm my duties that day as it alternates. Some days I can be cleaning the streets by raking, sweeping or assisting with rubbish collection.
By midday or even earlier, we are done for the day and I am on my way back home. I prepare lunch for my grandmother, complete any other duties or errands that need to be fulfilled, prepare dinner for the family and then bed time.
What do you like about your job?
I like that am able to contribute to the community by maintaining the surroundings, and the extra free time I have for myself tops it off.
What do your working hours look like?
We mostly work half-days, which is from 6am-12pm, Mondays to Fridays.
How did you end up working at CEPEP?
I came out of secondary school with less than five CXC passes. I do not identify myself as [someone you] may call ‘book-worm’ or scholarly. I am more a hands-on, practical type of girl. After completing CXC, I attempted to take private classes to re-write the exams, but I could not afford to pay the fees. Instead, when the Government offered free trade courses at HYPE and CCC, I quickly took the opportunities. I attended all the classes, graduated and received certificates. To be honest, my visions about my future were still unclear. I grew up in a household where no one really supported me with my education.
Securing a well-paid permanent job with less than five CXC passes was a task. I struggled with an office job, so I settled with working in fast food joints, cleaning companies and even tried my hand in entrepreneurship.
As much as people may look down on CEPEP workers, I strived because of CEPEP. It is not easy for the non-scholars out here you know? Even for a little waitressing job, they want you to have endless passes, but for what?
What made you choose CEPEP over the previous jobs you worked?
Management issues and problems receiving salaries. Some employers treat you like dogs, talking to you anyhow, making you work long ridiculous hours for little money. My last full-time job, I worked for three months as a cleaner without any salary. The company kept saying they did not receive outstanding cheque payments to payout staff. I relied on the salary collected from CEPEP to get to that job; I worked over eight hours a shift, and six days a week for three months without pay… I had to ask myself, “this making any sense?”
With CEPEP, time is flexible. Some days you start work at 6am, and may be back at home before 10am. You have more time for yourself, and there is no pressure from management, or people talking down at you to do your job.
What were the salaries like at those previous places of employment?
The wages were low, cleaning companies starts at $12.50 an hour, while fast food places offered $15.00 an hour.
What is the Salary like at CEPEP?
Our income falls under $500 weekly.
That’s under $1000 bi-monthly, how do you survive?
I survive by doing side hustles of selling breads and cakes baked by myself. Sometimes I may get hired to do other small private jobs, like cleaning and such. Thankfully, I have a support system at home. I live with my grandmother and other cousins, so we all chip in and live by purchasing things we more need than want.
Are there any dislikes about your current job?
At first when I started, I felt a slight discomfort working out in the streets when people saw me. I felt somewhat ashamed. I started when I just turned 20 and I was the youngest to join my batch. Back then, CEPEP workers consisted of more middle aged or elder people in their 50’s or 60’s, so when people saw a young girl working CEPEP, it was considered degrading. Anyone who knows me personally can tell you that I hold pride in whatever I do. Whatever necessary there is to be done, I will do it with my head held high—but I still felt something in my gut that made me feel doubtful. I eventually shook the doubtfulness off and did not let it take over me.
I think the biggest problem for me is the salary is too insufficient. The cost of living has rapidly increased over the past five years and yet the salary remained the same. It has been this way for years, and it seems like nothing will be done to improve the situation.
There has been news surfacing that contractors are being terminated from the CEPEP programme, is that true?
Yes, it is true; our jobs will soon be no more. I do not know much about behind the scenes, all I understood was that it is a matter of politics, and we have less than three months before we are terminated.
Where does that leave you?
Sad, but definitely not hopeless. I intend to take private classes and re-write a few CXC examinations to gain some qualifications. At this point, I have to do whatever it takes to secure a job that can better my current standard of life. I want to know what it feels like to graduate with a Bachelors, I am open and willing to go the extra mile and push myself to the limit.
Where do you see yourself after CEPEP?
I may return to working part-time shifts at fast-food joints to sustain myself. However, that is not my main focus. I am focusing on going back to school and attaining a higher form of education. I also intend on pushing my side business by marketing myself more so I can reach a larger audience. I am keeping my options open.
What caused the delay in returning to school before?
Financial reasons. I could not afford paying for the classes. I attempted to, but dropped out because I could not maintain paying the class fees to re-write the exams.
Would you consider going into the field of Building Maintenance and Plumbing?
In this country, these types of occupations are dominated by men. Often, you are not taken seriously because you are a woman. To land a job, you either have to be willing to accept disrespect or give sexual favours. Neither one, am I willing to do.
Have you experienced sexual harassment, or requests for sexual favors working in the trade industry?
Somewhat. Not directly. You get little provoking jokes and hints here and there by male colleagues and bosses, but my experiences were always indirect. On a professional level, I personally just find it awkward and I fully disapprove of it, so I just shut it down.
What advice can you give to people who may be in a job that is often disapproved of by society?
If you have to sweep floors and clean toilets to survive, do what you need to do. At the end of the day, what people think about you does not matter. Everyone has a goal, but it is up to you to work on it even if you have to start small and maintain yourself on small resources.
People’s opinions of you do not put food in your fridge, or clothing on your back. Once you keep up with that mindset, it will get easier for you. Remind yourself that this is not the end of the world.