School bus drivers and conductors to return to work today

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President of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union, which represents the employees, Kem Riley (grey shirt), discusses the outcome of talks with management with protesting employees
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Story and photos by Kadeem Joseph

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Hundreds of the nation’s students who are reliant on the school bus system will have a ride to school this morning after bus drivers and conductors walked off the job on Thursday morning in protest at stalled salary increase negotiations and other matters of frustration.

The employees had been agitating for a 10 percent increase on their salaries during the present three-year negotiating cycle, which ends in 2023, a matter that had been referred to the Labour Department.

Kem Riley, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union, which represents the employees, told Observer that the demonstration was needed to help advance talks.

“The recommendation from the Labour Department came sometime in March and we think that the company should have at least responded to the Labour Department to say that they accepted or not and because they did not, we took action,” he said.

The employees braved the morning sun after 7am and walked from the government motor pool on Old Parham Road to the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board (ABTB) in Herberts in the hopes that management would address their grievances.

Following a meeting lasting about an hour with the general manager of the board Hubert Jarvis and the human resource manager, the union representative and the school bus department’s shop steward Anjis Anthony emerged to address the disgruntled employees

The workers grew even more displeased after it was confirmed that management had rejected the 10 percent raise they had hoped for and instead agreed with the Labour Department’s proposal of a seven percent raise.

Anthony further explained, “They (the employees) had a hard time accepting the seven really but you know, after the breakdown of the reason for this and that and everything, we just came to the agreement that since the collective agreement had already gone a year and a half, let’s close that with the seven percent and we can start again with the other one coming in 2024.”

The employees were also hoping for a risk allowance for conductors which was rejected, but Riley explained that the ABTB’s management believes that the requisite practices are in place to reduce risk to conductors as they assist students in crossing the country’s roadways.

He said the union has worked towards improving health benefits instead, referencing a medical plan designed to improve preventative health services for staff.

The workers were also displeased with a position to only pay them half their salaries during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as during school downtime, since they claimed employees in other departments were not subject to the same adjustment.

“If you look at other industries where there is no work it is more of a lay-off situation and there is no pay, so I did say to them, let us not be too pushy with regards to it but the management has agreed to meet with us on that,” the union president explained.

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