More than two dozen staff members of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc. (BBCI) protested the office at D’Edward Village, West Coast Berbice on Tuesday.
The workers brandished placards as they walked the bridge entrance calling for the removal of the General Manager and for them to be provided with personal protective equipment/gear (PPE).
Parmanand Mathur, the maintenance/driver for the maintenance department and representative for the workers, told reporters that there was an incident on the bridge on Monday with three employees from the maintenance department.
Director on the Board of BBCI Faizal Jafarally (spotted in red cap) met with the workers shortly after the protest
“The guys were working and water was getting into their safety boots and the guys reported it to the supervisor and the supervisor called management and they were told that they were already issued one for the year and that they would have to find safety boots on their own.
“Since I joined here three years ago, I know when the boots damage they replace it and you go out and work, we do a lot of maintenance work and a lot of walking etc,” Mathur said.
One of the maintenance workers told the Guyana News Agency that he too has been working at BBCI for the past three years and that his safety footwear was damaged but management told them they are only entitled to one pair per year.
“They told us if you have to have a next one, you have to buy it on your own. Normally when the boots are damaged, you hand it in and get a next one but since Mr. Kooshial took over, management said we are only entitled to one,” the frustrated employee said.
The workers also complained that when they request or apply for time off during a medical emergency, management wants to see personal documents for proof of illness.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in a statement noted that the actions brought on by the management of the company are in breach of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Union said that efforts made by GAWU and the workers to have the damaged gear replaced “have been refused bluntly by management.”
Quoting section 46 (1) (a) of the OSH Act, the union highlighted that “An employer shall ensure that the equipment materials and protective devices and clothing as prescribed are provided.” In that regard, GAWU stressed that management is “either ignorant of the OSH Act or ignoring the rights of workers.”
Meanwhile, a Director on the Board of BBCI, Faizal Jafarally met with the workers shortly after the protest commenced and assured the employees that the matters raised will be addressed. He requested a timeframe of two weeks to have the issues rectified.
Jafarally said that after meeting with the workers, he was satisfied that the issues raised were genuine. He further disclosed that the board held discussions with the management of BBCI and “the issues of workers’ safety remained paramount.”
He said that just about a month ago he met with management and he “asked to procure the boots” while emphasising that “you cannot send people to work without proper gear”.
On the issue of a worker having to produce a personal document when someone is sick, Jafarally said “people can get sick at any time, all you need to do is call and report sick but if it prolongs for over three days then you have to have a medical certificate.”
Jafarally said that the workers agreed to go back to work and have the issues documented. Meanwhile, efforts by the News Room to get a comment from the General Manager were unsuccessful.