School cleaners earning below minimum wage, demand better

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By Devina Samaroo

School cleaners today protested outside of the Ministry of the Presidency for better conditions as they are currently earning below the minimum wage and are not entitled to a pension after retirement.

They are being paid for six hours per day at $312 per hour, even when they work longer periods – which is the case every day as they are tasked with maintaining a sanitary condition in the schools. Additionally, NIS isn’t paid for the employees; therefore they will not get a pension when they retire nor will they be entitled to any other benefit from the State.

Most shockingly, the workers were recently informed that they will only be paid for two weeks in July and one week in August; earning just over $6000 for the two week period.

It was the latter announcement which sparked the picketing exercise which was mobilized by the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) which has been advocating for years for better conditions for sweepers/cleaners.

GPSU First Vice President, Mortimer Livan explained during a press conference, that since 2003 they have been requesting that sweepers/cleaners regularized and that their salaries must be in keeping with the minimum wage of the public service.

Cabinet decision

He said Cabinet in 2013 made a decision to set the wages of the cleaners in accordance with the minimum wages order however it was never implemented. Livan explained that President David Granger whilst in opposition had supported their calls but yet the new administration is yet to take steps to improve the working conditions of these workers.

The Union is demanding that the workers also be paid the difference in salary with effect from the introduction of the minimum wage from July 1, 2013 and that they are granted annual leave retroactive to at least two years as well as for NIS to be paid.

Economic disaster

The Union leader said the situation is developing into a further economic disaster for the workers and their families.

“These workers with no other source of income are reliant on the already meager income paid by the government and depends on it being sufficient to meet their very basic domestic needs,” he emphasised, noting that the action taken to further reduce their wages is heartless.

“These workers go to work every day and perform exceptionally despite the economic challenges that they face. Our call today is to pay them what is deserving,” Livan stated.

He disclosed that the GPSU is yet to ascertain which authority issued the directive for the cleaners’ salaries to be further reduced. However after the protest, a GPSU delegation today met with permanent secretaries and advisers at the Ministry of the Presidency who promised to look into the matter.

Women empowerment

Second Vice President, Dawn Gardener further explained that these actions go against government’s commitment to championing the cause of women empowerment as a majority of the cleaners are female.

“At the age of retirement, there is no pension for these persons. Look at it, no NIS pension, no pension from the government, so tell me, at the age of 55 or even at the age of 60, are we going to send these persons out to do security work or some other employment. There will be nothing that they can live on after. Or will they have to depend on their children or remittance from overseas? Where we heading?” she stated.

Gardener stressed that this is a matter affecting single mothers – a vulnerable group in society – and it needs to be addressed with urgency.

“Being a single parent is not by choice and their rights should be respected like any other citizen and any other worker,” she posited.

Workers’ plight

News Room understands that one of the workers went to the bank with hopes to withdraw her full month’s salary for July but was confronted with just $6000 for the two weeks.

Another worker told media operatives that she has been working for over 15 years as a cleaner and she is approaching retirement, however, she will not be entitled to any benefits from the State.

Other cleaners complained about the paltry salary they are receiving, noting that they too have children to send to school and that their earnings are not enough to cover their basic expenses.

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