Charging that minimal progress has been made despite high-level talks, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday urged the government to include sweeper/cleaners on the fixed pensionable establishment at a rate equal in the first instance to the minimum wage.
Further, the union is continuing to advocate for these workers to be granted sick leave and vacation leave and allowance in keeping with the public service rules. At a press conference yesterday, acting GPSU president Dawn Gardener told reporters that the union is grateful that after more than a decade of advocacy sweeper cleaners are to be paid a minimum hourly rate of $312 for work not exceeding eight hours per day and five days per week.
Gardener was at the time quoting a March 8th, 2018 circular sent by Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Education Vibert Welch to the 10 Regional Executive Officers (REO). In the circular, Welch said that “upon the review of hours of work for sweeper/cleaners a decision has been taken to regularise the employment status of [those] employed in public schools.”
He went on to indicate that sweeper cleaners were to be employed under the conditions mentioned above and guaranteed 12 months of pay. Additionally the workers are to be allowed to work at least 20 days per month for the entire calendar year with necessary NIS deductions being made from salaries and remitted for those employed under line item 6117 (as temporary employees).
Further, during school breaks sweeper cleaners are to be granted 12 days of paid Annual Leave. Working hours have been set as 7 am to 4 pm at the Nursery level and 7.30 am to 4.30 pm for the Primary and Secondary levels with one-hour lunch breaks.
It was later indicated that these provisions would be effective from September, 2017, although the union had requested that they be implemented from July, 2017.
According to Gardener, the union intends to continue its fight for the basic benefits for this poorer class of workers even as some officers within the regions attempt to pull back the few successes they have achieved.
“Even though this was a Cabinet decision, there are efforts by some senior officials within the Regions, who think they have the authority to amend a Cabinet decision. [The union] has noted them trying to reduce the working hours of these sweepers/ cleaners,” she indicated.
Asked to identify the regions where this is occurring, Gardener identified Region 10 as the region where complaints have originated.
“Sweeper/cleaners in that region have received letters indicating that their hours have been cut,” she told reporters though she was unable to state who signed the letters or made the decision to amend the policy. After stating that the union intends to engage with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities on the issue, Gardener was asked if the union had already requested a meeting with PS Emile McGarrell. She answered in the negative stating that “in the new week” the union would approach both McGarrell, who holds responsibility for the regional administration, and Welch, who has responsibility for education.
In the statement it issued yesterday, the union said, “The continuous effort by the Union to fight for the basic benefits for sweeper/cleaners employed by the Ministry of Education started since 2003. To date despite much engagement at the highest level minimal progress has been made to bring this matter to an agreeable standard.”