The whole idea behind the unionization of vendors says Eon Andrews, the President of the Guyana Market Vendors Union (GMVU) is to seek to redress the “balance of respect” between the municipality and the people who ply their trade in and around the municipal markets.
It is, Andrews says “only fair,” his argument being that vending fees are the second largest contributor to City Hall’s coffers, behind rates and taxes. He should know. He was once a Councilor and, he says, the reliability of the revenue that derives from vending is far greater than that which comes from rates and taxes “since the municipality has not been very good at collecting rates and taxes.”
What Andrews says the Union wants most is to have the vendors’ representatives sit across the table from the officials of the municipality “to discuss an arrangement that will bring about mutual respect between the two parties.” He says that it is a matter of a lack of respect for the vendors and for their right to work and to earn. “Our members want to respect the law. They also want a fair deal that brings them a fair living and the assurance that the municipality will also respect the law.”
Since July 28 when it was launched, the Union has written two letters to Town Clerk Royston King. Andrews says that both remains un-responded to. He believes that the posture of the Town Clerk has to do with a kind of defiant brinkmanship that is connected to fear of a loss of face. Assertive by nature, Andrews sometimes gives the impression of running on a short fuse. Still, he says, he is prepared to be patient. Meanwhile, the City Constabulary continues to impose what Andrews describes as their “multi – million – dollar racket.” He says that what is made to appear like organized enforcement of the City’s by-laws governing trading in the capital is, in fact, carefully crafted harassment from which the perpetrators profit handsomely.
Andrews says that the whole process is carefully choreographed with unscrupulous persons actually placing vendors at trading spots on pavements from which vantage points they enjoy immunity from the sudden and indiscriminate raids that see goods seized and carted off by members of the Constabulary.
“They target vendors who are not part of their racket,” Andrews says, adding that those who toe the line enjoy immunity from the raids.
Andrews believes that there may still be a long road ahead before relations between the unionized vendors and City Hall find themselves on an amicable footing. He regards the recent, curtly served notice from City Hall notifying the vendors at Stabroek Market that the facility will now be closed for the second half of the day as a provocation. It used to be the third Wednesday in every month. “When these things happen, the stallholders and vendors must begin to calculate their loss of earnings arising out of City Hall’s arbitrary reduction in their trading time.
There is more. Andrews says that that the municipality has, again arbitrarily determined that stallholders must now pay their rents in the middle of the month rather than at the end of the month. “The collectors have said that there is a late fee attached to making payments beyond the set date,” Andrews says.
It is for these reasons, among others, Andrews says, that the Union has listed engaging City Hall as its number one priority. His line of reasoning is that if “a culture of mutual respect” can be created between the municipality and the vendors that could leave the Union free to address matters pertaining to the welfare of the vendors. One of those is the conditions under which they trade. “What we have determined is that if the quality of the relationship is not changed the Union will have no value.
Andrews says that the Georgetown City Council has assumed a posture “as if to suggest that they have complete control” over all of the space within the municipal boundaries. He believes that this is something that requires clarification. “We understand that the Council has certain responsibilities but those do not gainsay the overarching responsibility which central government has for the welfare and well-being of every Guyanese, including the vendors and stallholders in the capital.
General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Lincoln Lewis told Stabroek Business earlier this week that the move to unionize the vendors was “a historic development.” Lewis agrees that “the absence of official regard for the well-being and welfare of vendors, many of whom become involved in their own businesses because they cannot find work in the formal system” has been a problem for several years. “Speaking personally, I would wish to identify with what I am told are the objectives of the Vendors Union. As far as I can I will try to be visible in their struggle.”
Andrews says that he believes that the solidarity that will arise out of the union’s goal of unionizing vendors across the municipal markets could be enough to roll back the tide of what he calls the “terror-type controls” that have been imposed on vending and vendors by City Hall. He claims to have evidence made available to the Union by vendors regarding “names and details of payments” to officials. Andrews says that the corruption in the relationship between City Hall and the vending system “goes higher up in the system than people might suspect. Part of the focus of the Union is on exposing those rackets. It is the only way we can end them.”