Water conservancy workers protest over back pay, lost benefits

Eighteen workers of the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) joined with the General Workers Union (GWU) outside the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday to protest over back pay and the loss of benefits on the job.

Marching in a circle during what the GWU President Norris Witter called a “limited protest,” the men bore placards, carrying messages such as “Enough is enough,” “Workers’ rights are human rights,” and “It is time.”

“Our view is that the management has misinterpreted our willingness to cooperate as a sign of weakness and the situation has met the point of intolerance. We cannot and will not any longer cooperate with a management that is demonstrating scant respect and regard for the welfare and wellbeing of its employees who are incidentally members of this union,” Witter said in address to the management of the EDWC. “And let me make this very clear—if, after this protest action we are convinced that the management will continue in

Workers from the East Demerara Water Conservancy protesting outside the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday.

this sluggard manner, we are going to up the ante. So we hope that by this limited action, a clear message is sent to all concerned that we are not prepared to continue to tolerate these kinds of human rights abuses against the employees,” he continued, while citing the importance of those workers in the effective management of the critical water source.

Witter explained to this newspaper that the intent of the march was to chiefly address the issue of outstanding wages and allowances dating back to 2012, largely as a result of pay increases.

“…The practice in the past was that the state will impose increases for a particular year at the end of that year, so when the increase is announced, the payments will have to be made retroactively from January. Now what the management of the conservancy has been doing is whenever the announced imposition is made, they effect the new rate, if it’s 5% or 10%, they effect that 10% increase. But when it comes to the payment of the retroactivity going back to January, they have been delinquent in that, so that is the problem,” he said.

According to Witter, the workers have not been in receipt of wage increases for the past two years.

He also related that they have resisted management’s attempt to employ the workers on temporary contracts, even as he admitted that workers employed for as long as 20 years are there only on verbal contract agreement.

“…They also have outstanding for these employees outstanding allowanc-es, like bush allowances, meal allowances, etc. It is true to say that they have attempted to address issues as it relates to non-payment of NIS contributions to the NIS, deducted but not remitted. Non-payment of income taxes deducted and not remitted. So, efforts are being made to address those issues. But the crucial issues that are critical to the daily lives of these employees, like outstanding wages have not been addressed,” he said.

In addition to this, it was highlighted that the management has recently reneged on paying out travel allowances that were usually awarded to accommodate the employees traveling out of the backdam every week

He stated that on request by the administration of the EDWC, they had written providing justification as to why the travel allowance should be reinstated and why the employees should be given permanent contracts.

They had also submitted a partial agreement related to those issues that were to be promptly addressed, but there has so far been no positive response on any of these.

“All that was done, and that was recently, their wages were so low, so poor, that it fell way below the national minimum wage… To date, they have not engaged us in any serious negotiations as it relates to our proposals, that partial proposal to increase wages and conditions that they requested,” Witter said.

The workers declined to add any comments on the issue.

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