Frustrated city workers given little encouragement
…as meeting with Council, Union provides more heartache
By George Alleyne
Over 250 City Council workers gathered in the meeting room of City Hall yesterday to thrash out issues relating to their late salaries and were told not to expect their June pay “before the 10th of July”.
This information came one day after some 200 workers received their May salaries, following on and off protests and a number of broken promises, in regard to their pay date for last month.
City Treasurer Andrew Meredith followed up on an assurance by Town Clerk Yonette Pluck, who told the gathering that salaries for this month will be paid earlier than that of May.
“I could not see anything [payment] happening before the 10th of July for June salaries,” Meredith told workers. He explained the tight situation regarding money flow in which the Council finds itself. “Unless we are able to match the expenditure to income, we will be in this position for a long time.”
While the Council’s total workforce have heard, time and again, reports on the plight of their employers, they have become skeptical and outright distrustful of promised dates for salary payment, based on their numerous disappointing experiences when they go to their respective banks to withdraw money – mostly that Council officials had given incorrect information.
That skepticism was very evident yesterday morning when Treasurer Meredith took to the podium and triggered derisive laughter when he told workers, “My task is to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
The meeting yesterday was agreed upon by the Guyana Labour Union and the Council as a measure of updating the workers on the current situation, and allowing them to vent their concerns.
But within the given one hour for the meeting, persons at the head table Town Clerk Pluck, GLU General Secretary Carvil Duncan, and Treasurer Meredith along with the meeting’s moderator took up 45 minutes.
Five workers managed to squeeze in questions in the remaining 15 minutes at the promised interactive meeting, and their queries ranged from why a private contracted security service was being paid before staff, and why the union doesn’t call a strike, to the reason that money is being deducted from salaries for credit union payments but it is not forwarded to that savings organization.
Town Clerk Pluck’s response was that a strike holds no solution, and contractors are not paid before city workers. She acknowledged that credit dues are not always paid over in time, and described it as ‘a sad situation’. She explained that the priority is meeting salaries first, and as a result, sometimes other payments are left out. “It’s just the reality that we have to face,” she asserted.
“This is very disgusting,” one worker commented. “What other entity in Guyana pays employees $200 meal allowance, and why are some workers receiving only a flat salary with no added benefits?”
Saying that no other entity with such a low meal allowance immediately comes to mind, GLU’s Duncan explained that for some three to four years the union had been in negotiation with the Council for an increase in meal allowances to $300 or $400, but there were bureaucratic obstacles originating with City Hall that are holding back an agreement.
He had earlier called for a break to be given to delinquent tax payers so the Council can be paid at least some of the money owed to City Hall in one of the hardest revenue-collecting months, July.
“Why can’t the council have an amnesty running for about two weeks in the month of July, and try to grab as much as we can,” he asked.
One female worker, however, took to the microphone and disagreed, saying that too much of money owed to the Council will be written off with such a measure.
“At the end of the day, workers will still suffer, millions will be lost, so I am not in support of the amnesty,” she said.
Duncan’s conciliatory call for an amnesty yesterday appears to contradict the union’s aggressive stance last week when it had threatened in a media release a ‘total shutdown’ if May salaries were not paid by June 17th.
That release signed by Mr Duncan also stated, “This situation is a clear indication of the Council’s delinquencies and the workers are being used as a ‘pond’ [sic] resulting from the administration’s failure to perform their required duties, hence they create a position that we are forced to respond to.”
Yesterday, the GLU General Secretary spoke to the workers about divisions within City Hall that he said is the main cause of its predicament. “Ninety per cent of the problems we get in the Council is the in-fighting in the Council itself.”
His follow-up statements appeared to be a foray into those alleged divisions when he said that among the many delinquent Georgetown taxpayers are city councillors themselves. He then warned of ‘consequences’ for councillors who do not support his call for a tax amnesty next month.
In a parting note he said to workers, “A very senior person went on television and say you getting pay, and the next day he fly out”. This appeared to be a reference to Mayor Hamilton Green, who had on Monday promised protesting workers their pay within 24 hours, based on an agreement with the local government minister. But the following day that turned out to be another broken promise, while he flew out of the country.
In one of the measures aimed at easing the expenditure pressure on the Council, Town Clerk Pluck said the city administrators will cut back on payments to contractors by having staff do the jobs being done by these outside workers wherever possible.
“You workers will have to prove to us that you can do it [various contracted jobs], so we are testing the waters to see if you workers who are clamouring for us to take back the work can do it,” she stressed.
Following the meeting GLU Field Officer, Clarence Whitehead, told Kaieteur News of the union’s cautious reaction, “It’s a wait and see situation. Based on the fact that they are working to change the situation, we want to support anything that is good.”