Minibus strike set to resume today
Operators call for safer working environment By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
February 8, 2002

Strike action by minibuses operating routes 31, 32, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, and 50 is set to resume today as owners and operators call for several areas to be addressed by government.

The protest, due to start at 7 am, would likely see operators from all the above mentioned routes gathering at the Square of the Revolution where they are expected to remain until 7 pm or until the relevant government authority meets them to discuss their concerns.

Strike action was taken by minibus operators last week and continued for several days resulting in delays along several routes and inconvenience to commuters who had to wait long hours for transportation. There were several confrontations between striking drivers and the police. In addition, drivers who worked reported that their tyres were slashed by the strikers and passengers were also ejected from buses.

Yesterday at a press conference, around a dozen operators and owners listed several areas of concern to them. Among the measures highlighted by owners and operators is the need for government and the police force to provide a safer working environment for them to perform their daily duties.

At the press conference held at the Guyana Public Service Union headquarters the owners and operators said that apart from the already highlighted issue of restricting the use of boom boxes, with which the owners/operators were willing to cooperate and which they said had been blown out of proportion by the media, they were concerned about the mandatory use of seat belts, the seizing of documents by the police and the continued harassment by police who detain them for what they term minor offences.

Other matters raised by the owners/operators at the forum were higher fines and jail terms for drivers, stray animals and building materials on the roadway, the registration of bus parks and dress codes, potholes and the lighting of several stretches of roadway.

According to the concerned owners/operators the struggle was not one to fill their pockets but rather one to make the industry safer for the benefit of both the travelling public and operators.

Commenting on the alleged harassment by police, one owner stated that police should either issue tickets or charge operators speedily, allowing them time to resume their duties instead of detaining the buses for hours and causing losses in revenue.

He said that there needed to be judicious guidelines and a uniform approach to music in buses, instead of having police stop minibuses for having tape decks and equalisers, which, he said, were not amplifiers but rather instruments to ensure clarity of reception.

The owners/operators also called on government to examine the possibility of reducing taxes on such vehicles and tyres for them to allow for lower operating costs and reduced accidents on the country's roads.

Operators are also requesting that government look at the present licensing system, which sees person under certain ages being allowed to operate public transport vehicles. According to the operators, most of the problems associated with the industry are due to the age of some drivers, which they stated, should be 25 years and upwards with the persons having five continuous years of driving experience before qualifying to drive public transport vehicles.

Minibus owners and operators said that they were willing to comply with mechanisms for self-regulation on issues of smoking, drinking, respect for seniors and littering and play their part in making the roadways safer for travel but that the relevant government authorities also needed to play their part.

They charged that Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, was employing draconian measures in seeking to have certain things enforced, instead of speaking to operators to get some feedback on what areas could be examined to bring the situation under control.

One area which the operators want to see the minister tackle is the issue of some police officers who demand inducements from drivers. They said that they wanted a special task force established to deal with this issue.

Urging their colleagues to join today's action they requested that instead of taking workers to their places of employ and children to school, they should gather at the Square of the Revolution to protest their right to provide a service to the nation.