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Contracted workers on sick out, but fire brigade denies industrial action

Friday, May 11, 2018

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The Jamaica Fire Brigade yesterday denied that there was a sick-out by contracted truck drivers and mechanics, even as unions representing the workers confirmed the industrial action triggered by a wage and fringe benefits dispute.

The National Workers Union reported that the workers had started calling in sick from about 3:00 pm yesterday. Drivers in Portland, St Thomas, Kingston and St Andrew, St Mary, St Catherine, Clarendon, Trelawny, Manchester, St Ann, and St Elizabeth were involved.

A release from the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO) yesterday evening stated that the sick-out stemmed from the inability to settle non-payment of arrears over the 2017/2018 period that were due in March 2018, non-payment of call-out/emergency allowance during periods of leave in excess of 20 days, non-correction of overlaps in pay scales that had been effective from April 1, 2015.

JALGO said that the Ministry of Labour had arranged a conciliation meeting for 9:00 am today and that contract workers would remain on sick-out pending the outcome of the meeting.

However, head of communication at the fire brigade, Emilio Ebanks, said he was not aware of a sick-out by the employees and there was “nothing out of the ordinary” as it related to their attendance at fire stations.

“With a situation like that, it would have obviously impacted our response and nothing like that has been happening because we are able to respond to everything that we're accustomed to at the moment,” Ebanks told the Jamaica Observer.

When the Observer visited the York Park Fire Station in Kingston yesterday, head of the Kingston and St Andrew Division, Superintendent Kevin Haughton, was also adamant that there had been no reports of a sick-out in the division.

He said, however, that some monies were outstanding for members of the brigade and that it would have been paid to them by the end of the day.

However, NWU Vice-President Arthur Grant told the Observer that the workers were restless over the protracted wage and fringe benefits negotiations that dated back to 2015.

Grant added that he had anticipated the response of the fire brigade and was not surprised that it was denying the sick-out.

“I suspect that, that would've been their response, but I must clarify that we are not referring to firemen, but drivers and mechanics employed to the Jamaica Fire Brigade with specific duties assigned to them,” he said.

“The fire brigade has described these men as contracted employees or civilian drivers, but by virtue of their employment this is an erroneous designation,” he added.

He argued that based on the training and work provisions under which the workers were employed, they cannot be classified as contracted workers.

Grant said the union had been in discussions with the fire brigade since 2015 but they have been unable to reach an agreement and, as a result, the matter was referred to the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development.

“We took the liberty of writing to the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development last year and it was assigned to the ministry's permanent secretary to handle the matter, and that is where it has been since that time,” he said.

According to Grant, the local government ministry claimed that it was awaiting guidance from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service. However, the finance ministry has denied that claim.

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