The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday said that they are being kept in the dark with respect to information about the regularisation of the conditions for sweepers/cleaners and will be meeting with the workers to decide their next course of action.
At a press conference yesterday at the Union’s Headquarters at Shiv Chanderpaul Drive and Regent Street, First Vice President Dawn Gardener said that while it was announced by Minister of State Joseph Harmon in September that the workers would be regularised, they are unsure of “what it means” since they have not had contact with the Ministry of Education since September 21.
Also speaking at the press conference was Mortimer Livan, Vice President of the Union, who explained that after discussions with the workers, the GPSU and the Ministry met and a proposal was prepared and submitted.
The proposal from the Union had stated that the some 1,500 sweepers/ cleaners who are employed around the country should be allowed to work eight hours per day in a five-day week, and for at least 20 days per month for the entire calendar year. It also stated that they must be paid a daily rate of $2,400 and this should be revised in keeping with the wage increases for public servants. National Insurance Scheme (NIS) deductions and leave per calendar year were also recommended by the Union to the Ministry.
However, according to Livan after weeks without response, the Union wrote to the Minister of Educa-tion, Nicolette Henry, on September 7, requesting a meeting to bring clarity to the situation.
“The secretary of the Minister through a telephone call informed the GPSU that the meeting would be held on September 26. However, again, via a telephone call from the Minister’s secretary the GPSU was informed that the Minister will not be meeting with the GPSU since the matter was discussed with the Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally,” Livan said.
He explained that the Union subsequently learnt about the decision by the Government to regularise the workers through the media, which he said was totally out of order.
Subsequently, after the announcement, Livan explained that a disgruntled group of sweepers/ cleaners visited the Union and had reported that they were summoned to a meeting by Henry and were advised that she would not be meeting with any third party, including the GPSU or the media.
“The GPSU condemns that type of behaviour from a senior government functionary. It is very high handed and disrespectful. The GPSU entered into negotiations on behalf of the sweepers/cleaners with the Ministry of Education through the Permanent Secretary and as such, any communication to the sweepers/cleaners should be through the GPSU and to say that she will not meet with a third party flies in the face of, and is a blatant disregard of, the Agreement for the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes between the Government of Guyana and the Union,” Livan said.
He added that to this day, the GPSU is unaware of what condition Cabinet has agreed on and according to feedback from their source, it is not in line with their initial submissions to the Ministry of Education.
“It is not the view of the Union that the government is behaving with the requisite haste and sense of urgency in the matter of alleviating the suffering of the sweeper/cleaners. Their circumstances continue to give eloquent expression to the concept of the working poor,” Livan added.
When questioned what the Union’s next course of action would be, Livan related that he was not at liberty to say at the moment.
However, Gardener explained that the various representatives from around the country are in constant contact with the workers and they will be meeting to formally devise a plan of action, which she indicated should be completed before the end of the year.
“When we met with Education representatives in the first meeting we asked why are they not being given the opportunity for annual leave and we were told by senior officials that they are part time and not entitled to leave. We were shocked to hear these comments coming from senior officers,” Gardener said, while pointing out that they subsequently showed the officials the law which states that the employees are entitled to leave and there are three ways of computing the figure.
Gardener also pointed out that the Union is concerned that the information being fed to Cabinet might not be accurate and emphasised that almost a month after the announcement that the workers would be regularised, the Union has not been informed on what the agreement covers.
When also questioned on whether the Union will be accepting the Government’s proposed public servants’ wage increase, Livan pointed out that the matter would be discussed at another press conference today.
The GPSU has sought to have the sweepers/cleaners regularised and for their salaries to be brought in line with the minimum wage of the public service.
The GPSU had stated that after ardent representation, Cabinet, under the former PPP/C administration had made a decision on November 5, 2013, that the wages of the sweepers/cleaners would be set in accordance with the Minimum Wages Order [which at the time was $35,000/ month], that sweepers would be employed in all regions and that supplementary provisions would be sought to meet the expenditure retroactive to July, 2013. However, 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 added. 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 on the plight of the sweepers/cleaners and forwarded it to him on December 15, 2015. The communique informed of the status of the employees to be upgraded; that [they] be employed on the Permanent Establishment; that they must be paid in keeping with the Public Service Minimum Wage [now $50,000/month]; that they must be paid the difference in salary with effect from the introduction of the minimum wage from July 01, 2013; that they must be granted annual leave retroactive to at least two years; that National Insurance Scheme contributions must be paid for them; and that their years of service must be taken into [account] from the date of employment since their services were continuous.