Two-day strike could cost JUTC almost $6 million
Taxi operators in downtown Kingston capitalising on a strike by drivers employed to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company in this November 29, 2021.

The Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is being blamed by the Opposition for the crisis in which it has found itself since Wednesday, when thousands of commuters in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR) were forced to find other means of transportation as drivers employed to the company stayed off the job over a salary dispute.

The drivers were expected to return to work Thursday evening, commencing with the 7:00 pm shift, following a meeting with the Ministry of Labour and their union.

A statement issued by the ministry after the meeting, said: "The parties, after intense discussions, have arrived at an understanding for the salary advance paid to workers in December 2022 to be returned to workers and negotiations continue in the upcoming week relating to payment arrangements."

Opposition spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips said Thursday that "arrogance and ignorance" on the part of the State-run bus company in the handling of the situation with the disgruntled drivers led to the problem.

"As it is right now, the JUTC cannot afford to not have the buses on the road for any period of time, not even one day. When there is no fare box coming in, it's going to put the JUTC into a worse position where losses are concerned. This is arrogance and ignorance at the same time, on the part of the JUTC," Phillips told the Jamaica Observer.

The drivers stayed off the job in protest over their new fortnightly salaries under the recently signed compensation agreement with the Government. The workers signed the agreement in mid-March.

"How they implement it put workers at the point where some workers are going home with no pay, or less than what they took home the last fortnight. They did some deductions which are not in keeping with what we are expecting," said Clifton Grant, first vice-president for the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU).

"We all need the public transport service, so I'm hoping that with the management good sense will prevail, and there will be a settlement which would put the workers in a position to survive," added Grant.

Over the two days, the company may have seen a $4-million to $6-million fare box loss, sources say. The bus company, which transports roughly 50,000 passengers per day on 180 units, has already projected operating loss of $11 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. This while being propped up by a $7.4-billion subvention from Government to cushion its projected net shortfall.

In a statement Thursday, the company said "drivers withdrew their service Wednesday and continued their strike action Thursday to protest their dissatisfaction with their salary following the recently signed new compensation agreement; all salaries were paid in line with the heads of agreement".

Said the JUTC: "The strike action taken by drivers is a breach of the Labour Relations and Industrial Dispute Act. The JUTC provides an essential service and the strike action resulted in significant inconvenience to the public."

Phillips, meanwhile, said the strike could have been avoided. "It seems to be what is happening right across the whole public service, where communication has been lacking in relation to the compensation for a lot of civil servants, and JUTC is no different. If monies were going to be taken out of the salaries for the drivers, then at least a conversation, something in writing, should have at least been given to the drivers. It is beyond me that the JUTC has gone to the Ministry of Labour when the drivers say that they want to have a conversation with the Ministry of Finance and the management of the JUTC. They [management] have avoided having that meeting," he stated.

The JUTC also has another issue on its hand, concerning 14 mechanics at its Portmore depot who have been on interdiction since November.

One driver told the Observer that the dispute started when they sought information regarding the reclassification for the group. He said the mechanics have been receiving half-pay since November, and have not had word from management as to their future at the company. The Observer understands that the parties are engaged in ongoing hearings in an attempt to resolve the matter.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter

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