City warns about employment costs-as cash crunch continues By Heppilena Ferguson
Stabroek News
December 14, 2006

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City Council workers yesterday began trickling back to work after three days of strike action and the council's administration announced that it may have to consider cutting employment costs as a means of covering expenses.

This statement came from Deputy Mayor Robert Williams at the council's press briefing yesterday. Williams' assertion came in response to what he termed "unreasonable" demands being made by the union representing the workers who proceeded on strike action for the second time after having been unable to win a commitment from the council that it would pay them their one-off yearend payment before Christmas.

"I know that the union is familiar with the position and the numerous expenses that we have and they are making unreasonable demands and we cannot at this point commit to a particular date on which we could make that payment," Williams said.

Meanwhile, Acting Town Clerk Yonette Pluck reiterated this point and noted that the council's final decision on the matter was that it will pay the one-off when it is financially stable. At Monday's statutory meeting of the city council it was stated that the city was in desperate need of $167M to meet its expenses.

Pluck alluded too to the council's ongoing battle with the Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL) and insisted that if GPL had paid its rates and taxes then the council would be in a better position to pay its electricity bill.

At this stage the two parties have still not come to an agreement and the council yesterday said that their latest calculation revealed that the power company now owes it in excess of $783M.

On the same note, Pluck revealed that the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) is also another defaulter, amounting to more than $115M. "When it was the Guyana Water Authority we had no problem with rates, however since it became GWI, we have been experiencing some difficulty with collecting our rates," Pluck said and added that on the other hand, The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) has been very prompt with their payments.

"The thing is GPL can cut their service from our buildings. One can see the immediate effects of such an action. But the city council has to wait on a determination by the courts in these matters. So we are at a serious disadvantage with negative consequences for the services we provide to the city," Pluck contended. The city has challenged GPL in court.

The city contended that this current situation has nothing to do with mis-management as some suppose but everything to do with corporate citizens and property-owners ensuring the integrity of their accounts at City Hall.

Meanwhile, commenting on the Government revisiting the possibility of an Interim Management Committee (IMC) to replace the current council, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon at his post-cabinet media briefing yesterday said that the fact that the council still remains in authority reflects the citizenry's position on the IMC.

He alluded too to consultations held by the then Local Government Minister Clinton Collymore with Georgetown residents where there was a consensus that the council remain in authority.

Luncheon noted however that work is being done with stakeholders and the ministry of local government to strengthen City Hall in preparation for local government elections.

Luncheon said the concerns expressed by central government are justifiable in light of preparations underway for cricket world cup, in which the council is playing a part, since industrial action which the council has had to endure has created more uneasiness in this regard.

However, in the midst of its trials the council has still instituted its amnesty. This period will allow property owners to settle their accounts with the council.

After effects

Still, trying to cope with their financial difficulties, the council yesterday said the strike action greatly affected several of its operations.

Acting City Engineer Lloyd Alleyne said some of his workers were even threatened because they refused to leave pumps unattended while others were forced to work double shifts. "It's sad that the union called out even the pump attendants to strike and they are aware of the importance of these particular workers and I am really disappointed about that," Alleyne said.

However he noted that most of the larger pumps were unaffected.

Meanwhile, Director of the municipality's solid waste management department Hubert Urlin said what saved his department was the fact that the largest part of its work is contractual and so it was not affected much. "But the cleaning of drains and some streets was held back, these operations were affected the most because those workers were the ones that went on strike," he added.

Additionally, burial was affected as the workers in the Le Repentir cemetery too joined the industrial action and so most parlours were forced to carry out only tomb burials.

The Guyana Labour Union and the municipality are to reconvene negotiations today following an intervention by Chief Labour Officer Mohammed Akeel and a subsequent decision by the union to call off their strike action.