School cleaners protest salary cut for July/August holidays

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Teachers and students turning out for the new school term in September could be greeted with unkempt classrooms, as sweeper-cleaners have vowed not to clean schools if their demands are not met.

Marching to chants of “No money no wuk, school gon dutty September!” close to 100 sweeper cleaners from schools in and around Georgetown protested in front of the Ministry of the Presidency on Tuesday, demanding that they be paid their rightful salaries and be allowed their annual leave.

Sweeper-cleaners on the protest line in front of the Office of the President

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is yet unable to determine who had made the call to cut the sweeper-cleaners’ salaries, but has vowed to dig deeper.

For the July/August holiday period, many single parent women have received a salary of $9000 or less. According to them, the horror unfolded when they checked their bank accounts.

“It is unfair to us that we are cleaning schools and we are not getting any proper salary. It unfair to us, we have children to go to school,” one protestor shouted over the raucous crowd.

Another protestor, almost in tears, said, “How are we going to send our children to school when the Government didn’t put any money for us? What’s gonna happen? We are single parents, and we need to have money”. She contended that this happens every year around this time.

“This month I draw $5000, and so you think it is fair? I have my daughter to go to a private school and it is $80,000. What can $5000 do?

Another protestor declared, “It is really unfair that when we go for our salary and when we push in, it is just $5000.

The protestors decried their situation, noting that, after many years, they have not been placed in the permanent bracket. This has rendered them ineligible to receive benefits other public servants are given.

Another protestor said that she has been working with the Government for some 21 years, and over those years she has never been granted leave. “I need leave! I need vacation leave with money! I need my money and my leave together!” she declared.

The Guyana Public Service Union, representing the cleaners over the years, has said the current administration seemed to have taken a backseat approach to an issue it forcefully supported while in opposition.

The conditions under which the cleaners work are unacceptable, and there is clearly no effort expended to improve them. GPSU’s first Vice President, Mortimer Livan, met with reporters following the protest.

He said the situation is developing further into an economic disaster for the workers and their families, as they are, on many occasions, the only source of income.

“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; that is, value for their unconditional service. This is an unfortunate development of unmentionable proportions being meted out to sweeper-cleaners in this country”, he said.

Livan noted that the union condemns “this uncaring and unkind posture of the authorities, and demands that the conditions under which this category of workers toil be remedied forthwith”.

He said neither of the two Governments has implemented some decisions made in Cabinet under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in 2013, which included that the wages of the sweeper-cleaners be set in accordance with the minimum wages’ order and timely payment.

He said the matter was brought up again with President David Granger. However, even with his directives, nothing has been done.

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