Guyana: Union wants cleaners recognized

Guyana Chronicle:- THE Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is reiterating its call for ‘sweeper-cleaners’ to be recognised for the work they do, and the hours they are required to work to ensure sanitary facilities in schools are tolerable.

GPSU Vice President Mortimer Livan has called for the relevant authorities to look into this “very serious issue.” Addressing public servants at Sunday’s Labour Day rally at the National Park, he said sweeper-cleaners work extremely hard to ensure proper sanitary conditions within schools across the country.

Livan explained that sweeper-cleaners “are supposed to work six hours, but they work eight hours; and we are saying that they should be paid a better wage….”

Livan made it known that not only are sweeper-cleaners required to work extra hours for which they are not compensated, but they also do not receive benefits allotted to public servants.

“These people work very hard, and we think that recognition should be changed. They are not given time off, they are not given leave with pay, and these things. That should stop; they should be placed in a fixed establishment immediately, so they can enjoy their leave passage and all the other benefits that public servants enjoy,” an impassioned Livan declared.

He said the GPSU has embarked on a series of activities aimed at addressing social and economic problems affecting workers in the Public Service across the country. There are also plans to address the many challenges facing the Public Service, and the opportunities that exist within the Service will also be discussed.

“We look for justice for the Public Service,” Livan noted.

Last year, the GPSU had called the APNU-AFC administration “uncaring” as it called on the administration to urgently look into the issues facing public servants. Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, responding that government was far from “uncaring”, had noted that sweeper-cleaners form a special category of workers, thus the issues plaguing them have to be addressed cautiously.

“They are not just the same category of workers; these are people who work for a specific number of hours in the school system, and therefore the arrangements for them have to be carefully worked out,” Harmon had said last December.

Harmon had committed to having the issue resolved in the “shortest possible time”. He had noted that the anxiety of the union was understandable, and had said, “We’ve also asked the sweeper-cleaners to understand that we have their interest at heart, but there are specific features (regarding) the kind of service which they provide (and) the hours of work which they provide on a daily basis that would have to be categorised so we can make a decision in that regard.”

At that time of engagement, Minister Harmon could not have committed to the issue being resolved before the presentation of the 2016 budget, but had said that Government has started talks with the GPSU. He had also noted that the union had put forward to Government several proposals that were being considered.

The GPSU has argued that, for too long, sweeper-cleaners in the public sector have been paid low wages. Their wages are “way below the minimum wage”, the GPSU has contended.

Thus when Livan, in his Labour Day address, told workers that a series of problems within the public sector must be addressed, he said, “First of all, everybody wants to talk about wages and salaries, wages and salaries and negotiations…. We are very much ready to do that, but as you’ve recognized, there is the Commission of Inquiry, and His Excellency the President says we have to wait until the CoI report is furnished before we can continue.”

The GPSU representative made it clear that the GPSU is ready to commence negotiations with Government on wages and salary increases. “We are all ready now to negotiate. We are saying ‘let’s negotiate now’, there are things we can do before the COI comes out, but we need to start now,” he stressed.

Leslie Gonsalves, President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), reminded Government of its promise to public servants regarding the return of collective bargaining. “…but state and government workers are still to see this happen,” he said.

Gonsalves noted that there is a clear disconnect between the Government and the Trades Union, and he said he hopes that a bridge can be built to bring the two closer.

He said the GTUC and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) have come together and agreed on several things that need to be done by Government to enhance the lives of public servants.

FITUG and the GTUC agreed, on April 15, on a proposal that has been put to the Government in regard to the following issues: the return and respect of Collective Bargaining in the state sectors, and where trade unions exist; honouring of the 2012 High Court decision on reissuing letters for arbitration to bring resolution to outstanding issues existing between the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI); the development of a National Programme for the creation of jobs; establishment of a Labour and Economic Council to advise Government on issues impacting the nation’s performance and workers’ welfare; establishing and honouring a mechanism established to address the Sugar Industry.

In this regard the Trade Unions believe that there must be constant engagement among Government, cane farmers, GUYSUCO, trade unions in the sugar industry and other stakeholders.

Additionally, the unions proposed that there be the establishment of a Foreign Investment Commission to address the telecommunication and natural resources sectors; the honouring of the APNU-AFC coalition’s campaign commitment to reduce VAT; the revision of tax concessions granted to companies; National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and state pension addressed and protected; the end of employing contracts in ‘fixed establishment’ jobs; Speedy resolution to outstanding issues in the Teaching and Public Services; the establishing of Public Service Appellate Tribunal; and respect for the Rule of Law, universal declarations, conventions, charters and time-honoured principles.


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