‘On the bread line’

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– family men and women with mortgages plotting ways to get by after fired by GWI

By Svetlana Marshall

Single mothers, university graduates, young professionals, and family men and women with loans, mortgages and other financial commitments are among the 76 persons, who were placed on the breadline when Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) handed them termination letters last Monday.

Over the last 48 hours, Village Voice Newspaper reached out to at least 15 of the 76 persons who were fired, and while some were willing to share their stories, they requested that their names and photos be withheld out of fear that they will be further victimized by GWI, the Government and or the Private Sector.

Others simply indicated that they wish not to speak on the matter – such was the case of one of Guyana’s top Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) performers, who had secured seven Grade Ones and two Grade Twos in 2019.

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FIRED WITHOUT NOTICE 

A young mother of one, who holds a Diploma in Agriculture from the Guyana School of Agriculture, told Village Voice News that while working as a Customer Service Supervisor in Region Four she was stripped of her duties after she returned from leave but was never told that her services would be terminated.

“They asked me to take my leave in mid-March, early April, and when I came back from leave my duties were never assigned to me again because I was in charge of bill delivery but those duties were not assigned to me again,” the woman explained.

The young mother, who worked with GWI for approximately three years, said after the first week of doing “nothing,” she was asked to “queries” as a Customer Service Representative. The ex-employee said when she enquired whether she was being demoted, she was accused of being disrespectful.

As a single mother of a seven-year-old daughter, the young woman said it has been a rough journey being the sole provider, and the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation. Going further, she and her daughter would have to depend on the little savings she has to survive, however, she is hoping to land another job soon.

“I am job hunting, up to last night I was up, up until 10 o’clock writing applications,” the woman said but expressed concern that the fact that she was fired from GWI may discourage other companies from hiring her.

Currently, she is pursuing a Degree in Agriculture at the University of Guyana even as she undergoes a Heavy Duty Machinery Operator course with the Board of Industrial Training a (BIT) Programme.  She has also studied Commerce at the Government Technical Institute.

A Maintenance Assistant, who worked with GWI for approximately five years, said he was caught by surprise.

“I worked the day before I was issued the termination letter; I worked, I submitted reports to my manager,” the husband and father of five told Village Voice News.

The man said he had heard rumors that persons would be dismissed but was assured by at least two managers that such would not be the case.

In defending the move to terminate the services of the workers, GWI’s Chief Executive Officer, Sheik Baksh assured the press, on Friday, that the company will have no reason to replace those who were fired or outsource contractors to continue the work of the company.

But the sacked worker said the water company has not been honest in its discourse. “I am in a department that needs more people because what I was doing, I am the only person basically was doing it. So it is not a situation where you have someone in the company who was sitting around doing nothing,” the man said.

He added: “I was doing grease trap inspection…of all the hotels and restaurants in the city, and I was also doing building plans inspection for sewage chambers, because you know we have a construction boom because of the Oil and Gas Sector, so I was doing those two things. Now that I have left, there isn’t anybody doing that.”

That aside, the man told this newspaper that he has mortgage and other financial commitments.  “I would have to put measures in place to take care of that, nobody is going to take care of that for me,” he said.

He told this newspaper that while the company announced the dismissal of 157 persons within a three-month-period, other persons were forced out of the company since the change in Administration last August.

“The 157, those are only what you folks hear about now, they have close to 100 persons who were either dismissed or got frustrated on the job, because basically what they started doing was cut back, cut back on overtime, cut back on incentives, cut back on meal allowance. You had some folks whose salaries were very small, so the fact that they were getting the little meal allowance and overtime, those would have boost their salaries, allowing them to carry home something substantial,” the man reasoned.

A 24-year-old young man, who graduated from the University of Guyana with distinction having completed his Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Medical Technology, said his dismissal came as a shock. He worked in the Water Quality Department.

“I didn’t expect to have to look for a job so soon,” he told this newspaper. He had worked with the company for approximately 15 months.

Notwithstanding the setback, the young man said he will keep pushing on. He has applied for a scholarship through the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL) to pursue his Masters.

Another young professional told Village Voice News that GWI served him his termination letter at his gate. “Monday, I reported sick. I sent in a medical to the workplace Monday afternoon, so that meant I would have been home Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so while I was at home Tuesday morning, the letter was delivered to my house by GWI vehicle,” the 24-year-old man detailed.

The sacked Customer Service Representative said he reported to duty on Thursday but was told there was no need for him to work until the end of the month.

“The letter I received said the termination takes effect July 1, 2021 but when I showed up to work on Thursday, I was told I don’t need to be at work, I should hand in my badge and other belongings, and leave,” he recalled.

He said it is unfortunate that the company has targeted the ‘small man.’ “It is the smaller persons who are living pay check to pay check with the little salaries that they were getting, those are the persons who are being affected. Meanwhile, the bigger ones, sustain themselves with whatever savings they are expected to have, those are the persons still remaining with the company,” he reasoned.

The young man, who is also an interior designer, said he has started his décor business, however, business has been extremely slow as a result of the pandemic. “I was depending on my salary to get me through. I live all the way up in Mahaica, so there is not much opportunity up that side for me,” he said.

A mother of two children said though she is not a single parent mother, her dismissal from GWI will definitely take a toll on her.

“I think it was unfair,” the Clerk said, noting that staff were told that they would have been notified at least three months in advance, but such was not the case.

“I recently started university, I have two children, a three-year-old and a six-year-old, I have bills to pay,” the 25-year-old woman said. The young mother is currently pursuing a Degree in Marketing at the University of Guyana.

“It’s going to affect me financially and emotionally because the pressure of having to study how you will make ends meet when the end of the month comes, it is going to be a bit frustrating, the fact that I will have to study how I am going to pay my tuition, it is going to frustrate me more. It is a lot,” she said further.

She has been working with the company for approximately five years. The young woman said she feels targeted as a young Afro-Guyanese. “I don’t want to bad talk anybody, I don’t want to take bread out of anybody’s mouth, and I don’t want anybody to take bread out of my mouth but there are persons there who are sitting down and calling customers every day, and there is a machine calling those same customers. What is the sense in having those staff? But those staff are being kept because of their race. So to me this entire thing is race bait,” she opined.

The young woman said there is still time for the Irfaan Ali Administration to reconsider the decision being taken by the Management of GWI. “The Government needs to intervene, it is not fair for the young people of this country,” she said.

WITCH HUNTING 

Over the next three months, an additional 81 employees would be terminated as GWI restructures its organization to reduce its ‘high’ labour burden. But A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament, Vinceroy Jordan who was among those dismissed on Monday, condemned the actions of the company.

“Their actions are callous and deeply rooted in political witch-hunt further it is set out to target primarily Afro- Guyanese. It was not a well thought out process of dismissal,” he told this newspaper.

Jordan is a 31-year-old husband and father one child. An engineer by profession, he has a Certificate in Project Management and Supervisory Management and Craft Certificates in Engineering Discipline of Electrical, Automotive Works and Agricultural mechanics.

At the time of his dismissal, he served as a Technical Engineer having worked with GWI since 2010.

“This will affect me severely since it damaged my career path and my main source of income and left me unemployed,” he told this newspaper.

“I have almost 11 years of service and has never been disciplined and warned of poor performance my record is clean,” he added.

He said it also sends a bad message to young professional Guyanese.

“This is saying to the nation that the young professionals are being trampled upon and being dehumanised since their right to employment is being taken away by the installed government of the day, which is sad and disheartening. Young people are now being forced to use whatever means necessary to survive and with that we can see crime, corruption, drug trafficking and the likes sky rocketing,” he said.

GWI has said that the move is intended to cut the high labour cost but the Opposition, in particular the APNU+AFC, said the move is unjustified.



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