We are not satisfied, say quarry workers who are owed millions in overtime

Keithroy Merchant, shop steward at the Bendals Quarry (Photo by Shermain-Bique Charles)
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The government has managed to stave off another instance of industrial action, but it’s not clear for how long.

Forty-five workers at the Bendals and Burma quarries had been gearing up to down tools this week due to being owed two years of overtime from the government.

On Monday, the workers told Observer that they were preparing to announce a Friday deadline for monies owed to them to the tune of EC$2 million.

However, around 3pm on Tuesday afternoon, they were informed that they could collect their payments from the Treasury.

But their hopes of collecting a sizeable sum of money were dashed when they realised the government had only paid one month’s worth of overtime money for 2019.

“We got paid for 2019 and the amount that is on the cheque is unsatisfactory,” said Keithroy Merchant, shop steward at the Bendals Quarry.

Merchant said the payouts ranged from $200 to $1,200 and represents just one month of the monies owed for that year.

The shop steward, however, said that they will delay their protest and requests for the remainder of their monies until after the presentation of this year’s budget.

Public Relations Officer at the Burma Quarry, Derryn Sylvester, is not pleased with the decision, and told Observer that the system of payment is unfair and puts workers at a disadvantage.

“People have bills backed up, people have car to pay for, people have house rent to pay, people have school fee to pay – everybody have bills to pay.

“We already working for minimum wage and then you’re still not even paying us on an annual basis that we can see the money that we’re working for,” he told Observer.

Sylvester said both quarries operate for seven days each week preparing aggregates for the Ministry of Works and, as a result, the workers have accumulated 24 to 36 months’ worth of overtime because of the extended hours.

“The government has a lot of overtime piled up for us – months into months — years. They decide to pay and when they do pay, they pay you for two weeks,” he said.

The frustrated worker lamented that they have to continuously resort to taking their issues to the media to get some sort of restitution.

According to Sylvester, they had been informed that EC$2 million had been allocated to pay government workers overtime, but they never got paid out of that sum.

He said that while he understands the government’s financial situation, the practice of delayed overtime payments needs to be reviewed as it is unfair to those workers who have sacrificed their time.

“That’s unfair because we sacrifice our weekends and we don’t work 7-4; we work 7 in the morning sometimes until 9 o’clock at night. We sacrifice those hours just to make sure the government [gets its] work done and basically keep up to all these promises they have with organisations to finish up whatever work they have to do, but when is time to pay us they have the world of excuse and I find it’s unfair,” he explained.

He is calling for a meeting between the Permanent Secretary of Public Works and the unions in order to make an agreement to begin to clear off the debt.

Sylvester is demanding an agreement in writing that dictates when overtime monies will be paid out.

“If the government cannot meet us on a monthly basis, at least a quarterly basis,” he suggested.

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