By Suraj Narine
City workers yesterday shutdown the major markets as they began a strike for wage increases that have been snared by continuing wrangling between the City Council and acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba.
Angry vendors, who are losing income during the crucial Christmas season, flooded City Hall for answers as the gates remained closed at several markets, including Stabroek, Bourda and Kitty, while others resorted to selling on the road.
The strike came after the expiry of a 48-hour ultimatum that was issued to the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) on Thursday by President of the Guyana Local Government Officers Union (GLGOU) Dale Beresford, who had threatened industrial action if the union’s demand for a 5% increase was not met.
Between 200 and 300 workers, including clerical, market, day care, public health and building inspectorate staff, took part in the strike.
According to Beresford, the Council had met with the union and the Finance, Personnel and Training committees to negotiate for the increase and the proposal was lined up to go to full the Council but for the past three meetings it has been brushed aside by the M&CC.
“They have shifted it. They have not put it on the agenda and they have not looked at it,” Beresford said.
In wake of the protest, Mayor of Georgetown Hamilton Green blamed Sooba, whom he said has been avoiding meetings requested by the Council. He also accused her of not convening an extra-ordinary meeting as she was instructed to do.
“I wrote another letter to her today saying that the meeting should be convened and also reminding her… as the first item was the request from the union for increases, which the Council has agreed to earlier…,” Green told reporters.
“Ms Sooba claims that she is ‘not working’. Yet she is in office and dispatched a vehicle with a driver to negate the extra-ordinary meeting called by the Mayor of Georgetown, Mr Hamilton Green,” a release from the M&CC subsequently stated.
Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Greene, who also spoke to reporters, informed that the proposal made by the union was expected to be tabled at the December 8 meeting but because of Sooba’s behaviour towards members of the council the meeting was adjourned.
After the last Council meeting on December 8, Sooba circulated a form asking councillors to indicate whether they approved or disapproved a report by the Finance, Personnel and Training committees that recommended the increase for the workers.
“Due to the necessity to execute payments of salaries of the workers for the month of December 2014, the approval of the item is essential,” she wrote.
The Mayor, however, indicated that the Council is agreeable to the increase but wants it to be properly placed on the Council’s agenda at a meeting as a substantive item. The Mayor also said that a meeting will be held with the staff today at 10 am at City Hall since workers appeared to be misinformed about the situation.
Chase- Greene, who like the Mayor noted that the Council has already agreed on the increase, emphasised that approval cannot be done via the “round robin” process being attempted by Sooba. She added that whatever transpires at the meeting can be well documented and councillors have refused to sign a “piece of paper to give out millions.”
Minister of Local Government Norman Whittaker, at a press conference yesterday, lashed out at the M&CC, accusing them of putting their needs ahead of the people and misinforming the people.
The Minister made accusations based on information he received that Sooba made several attempts to convene the meeting but was refused by the Mayor and councillors. He also made references to several bargaining processes that the Council should have undertaken to avoid the strike.
Whittaker said that he will continue to monitor the situation and added if it continues the ministry will intervene. When asked what steps would be taken if the ministry intervened, the minister smiled and said “you will see.”
Meanwhile, some of the vendors affected by the markets being closed expressed their dismay as they stood outside at City Hall demanding answers.
“I want know where I must go sell now! I blocking the road and sell. Why we in de middle of them politics game? Is Christmas time! Wha dem want I go thief?” said one grocery vendor, Marvin Trotz.
Another vendor, who identified herself as a hurt and fed up vendor, told Stabroek News that if the strike continues she and others will “shutdown” the entire City Hall.
“If tomorrow and dem strike, me and them girl done say we going sell in the middle of the road. We going shutdown this… town…watch and see,” she said.
Brenda Sampson, a clothing vendor said, “Is a game dem playing. Election coming on so this Christmas done brown because people holding back dem money and now you go shutdown gate fuh de market? What dem want we to sell? Dem want we children hungry fuh Christmas, eh? Dem done got them fat salary you know.”
At the markets, some vendors set up mobile stands along adjoining street corners, while some even used their vehicles to sell as they were determined that nothing was going to stop them from making a “raise” for the Christmas.