The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has condemned the government’s approach to dealing with the payment and conditions of sweepers and cleaners in public schools as uncaring and unkind.
According to a GPSU press release on Tuesday, the conditions of this group of workers has continued to deteriorate under the current administration, and at a meeting last Friday, they were informed by their Head Teachers that their work hours will be reduced to six hours daily, although they are often required more than eight hours to complete their duties, and that they will be only paid for two weeks in July and one week in August.
The sweepers/cleaners are those people employed by the Ministry of Education to maintain a clean and healthy environment in the public schools, according to the GPSU media statement. The GPSU who have represented these workers as far back as 2003, have sought to have them regularized and that their salaries be kept with the minimum wage of the Public Service.
According to the GPSU bulletin, after ardent representation, Cabinet on 5th November, 2013 made a decision that the wages of the sweepers/cleaners be set in accordance with the Minimum Wages Order [which at the time was $35,000/ month] and be made timely, sweepers be employed in all regions and Supplemen-tary Provi-sions be sought to meet the expenditure retroactive to July, 2013. The Cabinet Decision was never implemented, despite it being raised again with the previous administration by the GPSU.
President David Granger, while in opposition supported the call for the workers to be upgraded, the GPSU statement said. When the matter was raised with Granger on August 31, 2015, he referred it the then Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence. At the request of the Junior Minister of Finance, the union prepared a detailed statement of the plight of the sweepers/cleaners and forwarded it to him on December 15th, 2015. The communique informed of the status of the employees to be upgraded; (they) be employed on the Perma-nent Establishment; must be paid in keeping with the Public Service Minimum Wage [now $50,000/ month]; must be paid the difference in salary with effect from the introduction of the minimum wage from July 01, 2013: must be granted annual leave retroactive to at least two years; NIS must be paid for these employees and employees years of service must be taken into [account] from the date of employment since their services were continuous.
“This situation is developing further into an economic disaster for the workers and their families… are reliant on the already meagre income paid by the government… the action taken to reduce their wages is heartless… our call today is to pay them what is deserving i.e. value for their unconditional service,“ the GPSU bulletin stated, whilst lamenting the dire straits in which the sweepers/cleaners find themselves.
This issue of the government’s approach to this particular group of workers is not confined to recent times. As far back as November 2011, the then outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo promised that his successor would settle the matter. The current APNU + AFC government had promised during campaigning to look into the outstanding problem, and Minister of State Joe Harmon had assured in December 2015 that the issue would be addressed in the 2016 Budget.
At its first press conference this year on January 19th, the union proclaimed that the sweepers/cleaners’ affair had become a” badge of shame” for the government, and the sweepers/ cleaners present laid bare their desperate living circumstances, their continued exploitation by the ministry and the dashed hopes of the unfulfilled promises by the governments of the past six years.