Minibus strike widens
Police arrest 15 for causing obstruction By Nigel Williams and Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
January 31, 2002

Thousands of schoolchildren and workers were left stranded yesterday as strike action by minibus operators, which began on Monday, continued to take a heavy toll on commuters everywhere.

Yesterday's action saw four other minibus routes joining operators from the East Coast and Berbice who initiated the strike. Buses plying routes 32 (Georgetown-Parika), 41 (Lodge and North, South, East and West Ruimveldt) 40 (Kitty/Campbellville) 42 (Georgetown-Timehri) and even some from Linden parked their minibuses in protest saying, "It is time we hear something better from the Minister of Home Affairs."

This newspaper made several attempts to contact Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj yesterday but he was said to be in a meeting. Meanwhile, a police press release revealed that 15 persons were arrested in Georgetown for causing obstruction to the free flow of traffic while another man was arrested because he was allegedly found with a noxious substance.

The release said that there were also incidents of vehicles' wheels being punctured and operators pulling passengers from vehicles and preventing those who wanted to work from doing so. The force called on all drivers and conductors to desist from pulling passengers from vehicles. "We appeal to the general public for support as the maintenance of law and order is everyone's business." Operators who have what they perceive to be grievances, the release said, should air these in a lawful manner.

According to the police, the law had not, nor had the police banned the playing of music in minibuses or hire cars, however "Condition 18 of the Road Services Licence of these vehicles especially minibuses states, 'the holder of this licence and the driver or conductor shall not have, affixed, or carry therein or thereon any stereo set, juke box, wireless loud speakers, amplifier, gramophone, television set, video cassette recorder or similar instruments of music unless approved by the relevant authority.'"

From Corentyne in the east Berbice to Belladrum in the west, drivers, conductors and touts gathered from as early as 9 am yesterday with their minibuses parked at the corner of roads holding placards. Those from Corentyne who operate along Route 63 (Crabwood Creek-Rosignol) assembled at Number 35 Village and later moved to Albion where they remained until the end of the day. He said that the protestors were fortunate to speak with President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was on his way to city after his two-day visit to Suriname.

A representative of the Minibus Association in Berbice spoke to the President and the President informed him that he and Gajraj were scheduled to meet the association on February 8, and the matter would be discussed then.

On the West Coast Berbice, Route 50 (Georgetown-Rosignol) operators converged at Belladrum and remained until late yesterday afternoon.

The scene on the East Coast was distressing. Both the young and the old from Mahaica to Plaisance were seen braving humid conditions and sometimes pouring rain to reach their destination and places of abode. Little children under the age of ten were carrying very large haversacks and lunch bags and because of the absence of transportation many of them had to walk to their homes.

"Mummy told me if I can't get a bus to come home I should walk home," one schoolchild said. The little girl who is a pupil of the Golden Grove Primary School told this newspaper that she went to school very early yesterday morning since many of the buses were in operation but that at about midday, they stopped working and parked at the corner of Golden Grove Market, where the drivers drank beers and played music.

In the city the situation escalated. Drivers and conductors evicted passengers from vehicles and sometimes buses were rocked to and fro with schoolchildren inside. One man said that a minibus plying the Campbellville route was halted by a group of bus drivers and touts early yesterday morning and students were ordered out of the bus. He said many of boys and girls were forced to return home as the men threatened them.

He said some of the schoolgirls enjoyed good relationships with bus drivers and such they did little to stop the harassment they had to endure.

Across at the West Demerara and South bus parks, many commuters were still waiting up to late last evening. Some waited on special hires, while others waited patiently for a vehicle to take them home. Mothers with children in hand, vendors with huge loads of groceries, businessmen, nurses and teachers travelling to the training college all crowded the parks in a prolonged wait for transportation yesterday.

A commuter from Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara claimed that he was assaulted by an officer attached to the Leonora Police Station and pushed into a drain while passing near where some Route 32 buses were parked. The man, Gary Aaron, told this newspaper that he had just finished a matter in court and was heading home on foot when he was accused of encumbering the roadway. The man informed that he was currently employed by Guysuco and had nothing to do with the strike.

Over 150 operators of Route 32 converged at the Uitvlugt Community Centre and remained there for over six hours before leaving. The men said that it was the first day they were striking adding that they were moved by fellow operators from the East Coast and Berbice.

One driver, Ganga Persaud, said that the police were saying that they could play music but no boom boxes were allowed, yet when they were caught with them, they were made to pay a fine of $30,000 or an alternative of six months imprisonment.

Persaud insisted that they were willing to comply with the rule prohibiting boom boxes, but if they were allowed to play music, then it must be made public so that police officers would not arrest them when their vehicles were found with such.

While at West Demerara five men including, drivers, touts and conductors were detained at the Leonora Police Station they were Courtney Grimmond, Imtiaz Razack, Yasser Ali, Dennis Mangru and Alan Wajid. Some of the protestors told this newspaper that the men were detained because they allegedly encumbered the road and up to press time yesterday the men were still in police custody.

Angry commuters, mainly women, were seen abusing police officers in the city streets. The ladies claimed that officers stood unmoved while the strikers were allowed to assault other drivers who were working and insulted passengers. One of them said that she was in a South bus and a group of men punctured the tyres in front of a police officer. She noted that many of the officers weren't armed and as such the strikers took full advantage.

She insisted that police officers were hired to protect citizens and it was unfair for commuters to sit in a minibus and have its journey halted by those who are protesting. The woman, who is employed by the Ministry of Agriculture, indicated that she left work earlier than usual yesterday because of the strike and when she finally got into a bus they were prevented from travelling.

"These policemen have to pull up their socks, they are not doing anything to appease the situation, these guys [strikers] are allowed to get off with too many things," she said.

The strike is expected to continue today. Stabroek News understands that another motorcade from Berbice would be coming to the city while operators from East Coast, West Coast and East Bank are expected to join the motorcade.