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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Post office workers continue countrywide sit-in
Stabroek News

The stand-off between the postal workers union and management of the Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC) is no closer to being resolved and a sit-in by workers across Guyana continued yesterday and impacted on a range of services.

Airmail leaving for the airport and mail to be distributed to other parts of the country are expected to be delayed, sources say.

Apart from several issues including the alleged sloth by management of GPOC in regularising temporary employees, the Guyana Postal and Telecommunications Workers Union is taking the industrial action over the suspension of an employee of the GPOC head office in Robb Street, Georgetown. The union has asked that the letter of suspension be withdrawn but management has refused.

General Secretary of the GP&TWU, Gillian Burton Marks, told Stabroek News last evening the dissension was no closer to being resolved. "No word," she said.

Howard Lorimer, GPOC Public Relations Manager was out of town yesterday and the Post Master General, Noel Phillips, was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, mail leaving for the airport will not go, a source told this newspaper yesterday afternoon. While they were "easing and pressing" with the sit-in, it was starting to have an effect, the source said. The sit-in was initiated on Monday morning.

While some counter clerks were working when this newspaper visited the GPOC head office in Robb Street after 3 pm yesterday, there was a queue of about 20 customers including some pensioners. Some casual staffers were also sorting mail.

Included in its reasons for the protest action is an incident where an employee of the mail sorting section at head office was recently suspended.

The employee was reportedly talking to someone on the ground and a female security in a booth above overseeing the mail sorting procedure called out to the employee and enquired whether the employee had been addressing her. This incident led to an exchange of words between the two, this newspaper understands.

This newspaper was told that afterwards the security manager had approached the employee directly for a statement but was told by the employee that he was busy at that time and could not give the statement. The employee was then suspended based only on the report given by the female security personnel.

The union is contending that the employee has two immediate supervisors above him and they should have been approached first instead of the employee being approached directly. "The security manager could have said hey could you lend me (name) for a few minutes," a senior member of the section said.

Nevertheless, this newspaper understands too that the female security had approached the employee's immediate superiors after the incident but was allegedly mistreated verbally in front of them too. However, they have not been given a chance to respond to the allegation.

The employee is also involved in another incident where registered mail which had already being sorted and delivered was brought back by the customer because of alleged tampering. "We get a lot of mails like that from Barbados. They open it in Barbados," a senior employee said.

The same employee (who was suspended) had been a Post Master but was demoted to an ordinary clerk over another incident.

Stay the course

Regarding the suspension of the employee, Lorimer said on Monday

the union had asked that the letter of suspension be withdrawn "before getting the facts" and the Post Master General has not been willing to withdraw the letter. "This is seen as totally unacceptable by the Guyana Post Office Corporation which intends to stay the course until such time that the Postal and Telecom-munication Workers Union can deal with the matter objectively."

He said that it was paid suspension and the employee had responded to correspondence sent to him. He noted too that the suspension stemmed from alleged verbal abuse of senior security officers and it was not the first time management has been concerned over the employee regarding his handling of mail.

Employees in the protest were upset over the suspension of the employee saying that he had not been availed due process before being suspended. One of the protesters said if the letter of suspension was not withdrawn by 4:30 yesterday afternoon the protest would intensify.

At a press conference on Monday the GP&TWU focused on other issues. President of the union Morris Walcott said they have been engaging management of the GPOC in monthly talks on several issues but nothing of "substance" has been coming out.

Walcott said that the sit-in "was a start" to get the attention of management. "We would like to see something of substance coming out of the talks."

Security was brought up at the press conference. Walcott highlighted the need for better security measures when large sums of cash are being handled by the corporation so as to avoid potential risks to employees' lives. Over the past weekend three postal facilities were robbed in Georgetown, New Amsterdam, and Essequibo.

He noted too the need to adequately secure post office compounds since in some cases Post Masters live above the post office buildings. "My wife and I now hardly sleep at night."

Lorimer told Stabroek News on Monday that matters raised by the union were being dealt with. "The GPOC is in a period of reorganising. It may be a little slow. Security is a major concern."

Management of the GPOC in a press release on Sunday condemned what it called "the seemingly calculated and organised attacks on its post offices" adding that the attacks were "on the people of Guyana whom it serves, especially the senior citizens."

When approached yesterday afternoon as to whether the sit-in continued, two mail box clerks responded: "Of course. `Til we get results" What results? "Everything. The employees' welfare. If something happen you got nobody to go to. Like nobody don't really care."

When the head office employees picketed on Monday, one of the employees said that management had showed little interest in employees held by police as part of their investigations into a series of robberies committed on the postal service. "They is be there and like nobody don't even care."

Other issues of concern to the union were the regularising of temporary staff, "some casual two to three years", and the non- adherence to grievance procedures. Walcott noted that temporary workers who have been working for a long time are still liable to easy dismissal.

Employees also expressed anger at what was seen as direct involvement in the day-to-day running of the GPOC by Chairman of the Board of Directors, Bishop Juan Edghill. "He wan deh in everything," one woman had said.

However, Walcott told reporters at the press conference on Monday that was more of a perception. He said the perception could have stemmed from the Board of Directors of the GPOC not yet acknowledging him as the new spokesperson for the union, though it had been informed of this in writing in November last year and again in February this year. "They continue to deal with the old person." He said the Office of the Prime Minister has recognized him as being the new spokesperson for the union.