City, power company remain at odds over debt
-abattoir, day care centres suffering from outages By Heppilena Ferguson
Stabroek News
November 29, 2006

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This area where the animals wait their turn to be slaughtered was in an unsanitary condition yesterday when this newspaper visited.

Several departments of the Mayor and City Council were up to yesterday without electricity as the power company and the municipality remained deadlocked over arrears while municipal services suffered from the disconnections.

And insanitary conditions at the municipality's Water Street abattoir as a result of the standoff have raised serious concerns.

Stabroek News visited the facility yesterday and the situation was beyond just the effects of a power outage and workers have asked that the authorities look into the matter since they are frustrated and no longer motivated.

Staff on hand told this newspaper that their power supply was disconnected nearly two weeks ago and since then slaughtering has become a tiresome task.

The abattoir slaughters cows and pigs three times per week but due to the power situation fewer cows are now being slaughtered and staff are now completely unable to handle the slaughtering of pigs.

"We had to cut down on the number of cows we would usually slaughter because cleaning up after the process is now more difficult because usually we would use a high pressure hose but since the light cut off we have no power so we got to use buckets to wash down after we kill the animals," an employee said.

Staff showed Stabroek News remnants of blood that was still obvious on the floor in the part of the building where slaughtering took place on Monday.

"It's really hard for us to clean the place the way it should be cleaned and the conditions here are horrible and when we start to clean, the entire place lights up and smells horrible and we think this is dangerous to our health," they added.

"Ever since the power gone, in here is be stink bad and we can't deal with the pigs because we always need warm water to wash while we slaughter and with this whole situation, we got to stop after we done with couple cows cause we have to wash down the thick blood and with the hose it use to be better and saved much time," another staff member told this newspaper.

Moreover, pigs are now being slaughtered in abattoirs at out of town locations and staff are now worried about the quality of pork that may be entering the markets.

"Usually when the pigs are not slaughtered here they are usually subjected to a re-inspection here before it goes to the market, but with this situation we don't know what is happening there," a senior staff member said.

At this time of the year the abattoir would usually extend their operating hours and this has also heightened the concerns of staff who told this newspaper they are willing to work but the conditions were not conducive and something must be done urgently. Currently the abattoir is utilizing a stand-by generator for the slaughtering process.

In a statement issued yesterday the council said its records revealed that the power company was negligent in honouring its financial obligation to the municipality. The council also adjusted the sum of money owed to it by GPL's predecessor, the Guyana Electricity Corporation, to over $435M.

Additionally, the council stated that it had filed a claim in the court against the company and this matter comes up for hearing on December 7.

No pay

As if the conditions they are currently working under are not bad enough, employees of the abattoir told Stabroek News that they have not received their November salaries.

"No one has come to say nothing to us about when we getting paid and imagine we got to be working under these conditions, not even the union," one worker said.

"We have our own obligations and this is not fair to us ... we ensure that we come to work faithfully each day and none of the big bosses ain't even come and say nothing to us, he added.

They said too that an agreement between the union representing them and the council had mandated that they be paid on the 15th of each month but the council earlier this year circulated a memo which indicated that they will be paid on the 21st of November.

However the workers said they are worried since they all have financial demands to meet. One woman even went as far as explaining her financial obligations and noted that the setback has caused her to not honour these and as such, she is now in a dreadful situation.

Workers also complained of being denied their requisite amount of annual leave and added that this situation has been going on for quite sometime and no one seems to be willing or able to assist.

One worker, who said he has been in the municipality's employ for over 18 years recounted, "I working here so long and when I apply for my full leave all they telling me is that I could only get two weeks and when we go on leave they not even giving us leave passage and as far as I concern we paying union dues and the union is not representing us adequately."

Meanwhile, Carvil Duncan, President of the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) which represents some of the workers told Stabroek News that it had informed the shop steward that Acting Town Clerk Yonnette Pluck had informed them that the council would pay the workers on November 30 and explained too that the delay was due to its current financial position.

Duncan argued that this information was communicated to the workers. However the other categories of workers, mostly office staff are represented by the Local Government Officers Union (LGOU), which is headed by Chief Meat and Food Inspector, Andrew Garnett who is also in charge of the municipality's abattoir.

"I don't believe that the council got their workers at heart at all, we are working faithfully and this situation we in right now is past the worst and up to now they got us with buckets and brooms cleaning this place since the power outage and no one ain't telling us anything, and this is totally unfair to us," he added.

The day care centres run by the municipality which also had their electricity supply cut were also still in a difficult position yesterday and one employee at the South Road Day Care centre told this newspaper that the children were uncomfortable and so it was difficult for the day care staff.

"We store all the sterilized bottles in the refrigerator and with the blackout, neither the fans nor the sterilizer can work so we really in a terrible situation here too", she said.

She explained however that the turnout remained the same.

Stabroek News also learnt that staff at this centre and the other one were forced to fetch water from standpipes just to ensure that the children received meals and also to flush toilets. Additionally, the council said yesterday that many children were unable to receive their vaccinations since refrigeration facilities for these were not possible. The council in the statement said too that if the situation persists many mothers may have to keep their children at home.

GLU President Duncan told Stabroek News he is watching the situation carefully and hopes it is remedied shortly.

The city council said it is hopeful that the Guyana Power and Light would do the proper thing and come to the table and settle this matter. The company had indicated in a statement issued Monday that it is willing to meet with the council on the issue. It had also noted that the council had reneged on a 2005 payment deal.