‘We have had enough’
NHT workers vow to remain off the job until concerns addressed
National Housing Trust (NHT) workers protest at Emancipation Park, outside the NHT’s head office in New Kingston on Friday, over a job evaluation exercise that they say the management of the trust has failed to address since 2016. (Photos: Joseph Wellington)

The 900 administrative, ancillary, and clerical staff at the National Housing Trust (NHT), who on Friday stayed off the job in an islandwide protest, say they will not return to their posts until the management of the entity gives them a concrete commitment that their concerns over a job evaluation exercise will be addressed.

According to the workers, the NHT management has been using delay “tactics” to avoid addressing the issues relating to exercise that was approved by the Ministry of Finance from as far back as 2016 and for which a report was finalised in November 2021.

On Friday, the workers took to the street after a meeting between the NHT Staff Association (NHTSA) and the management team, to determine the status of the implementation of the job evaluation outcomes on Thursday, “bore no fruit”.

“Since [November] we have not been getting any communication in regards to implementation. We are saying that, for an entity that feeds into the nation’s breadbasket, as workers we are deserving of what is due. We are coming out of a period of negotiation also which has borne no fruit; we are awaiting finalisation of such,” NHTSA President Shana Whyte told the Jamaica Observer outside the trust’s head office in New Kingston where dozens of her placard-bearing colleagues, clad mostly in black, were gathered.

“We went to a meeting Thursday in which we spoke to them on the matter; nothing came from it in terms of our negotiation. We were told that they sent our negotiations to the ministry and that they did not receive any feedback in regards to the recommendations that were made. We spoke to them about the job evaluations specially, and they told us they would see about trying to get a meeting. But we have been given these assurances many times and nothing has gone through,” Whyte explained.

A National Housing Trust employee displays a placard during Friday’s protest outside the trust’s head office in New Kingston.

She said the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU), which represents the workers, has gone as far as to issue the trust with a five-day notice to jolt it into having discussions with the staff, to no avail.

“The evaluation looked at the job skills, job descriptions, etcetera and the payment relative to the market to see where we are at. It may have varying outcomes, but we are saying the exercise is completed, effect what is there so that we can understand. It was approved since 2016, it’s on a claim since 2012 which means that some jobs may have been enriched and so we want to understand where we are in the market. We are facing the pinch as well; our negotiations have brought no fruit so far,” Whyte said.

“It has been too long, and based on the cost of living and everything that is happening now, the workers are at their wits’ end. We are the administrative, ancillary, and clerical staff who carry the organisation, we represent the majority of the organisation, and it is a sad day when we have to be here, but it is a necessary day,” she told the Observer.

She said with several promises from the trust yet to materialise, the staff decided to send a stronger message.

“As workers we said we have been given this assurance too many times. This seems to be the tactic at play and we have had enough. We are the group of workers, we are never outside, so if you see us out here it is necessary,” Whyte continued.

“Comparatively, we question our salaries; there are things we cannot provide for our families, similarly across the public sector, and as such we want what is our just due,” she said further.

Asked how long workers were prepared to remain off the job, Whyte said: “We will see”.

Asked what would prompt workers to return to their duties, she said, “We expect the management of the organisation to communicate and to contact us in regards to implementation of the job evaluation, in regards to coming to us in relation to the negotiations, our benefits, etcetera, because we know what the NHT is about and we are not asking for anything other than what is fair and what is due.”

Several calls to UAWU Third Vice-President Garfield Harvey, who is responsible for the NHT workers, went unanswered.

In the meantime, the NHT, in a statement issued Friday evening, said the management was at no point served any notice of industrial action.

The trust said that the staff association has refused to accept the four per cent wage increase offered by the Government to all public sector workers.

“The management of the NHT remains committed to the collective bargaining process and looks forward to the completion of the negotiations in an amicable manner. With regard to the job evaluation exercise, the NHT’s management, and the NHTSA confirmed a meeting for Tuesday, May 17, 2022 to discuss the way forward with the staff representatives,” the trust said.

The protest is the latest in a spate of industrial action in the public sector this week. On Tuesday, more than 2,000 National Water Commission workers protested, demanding that the Government address an outstanding reclassification from 2008 and their exemption from the ongoing review of public sector compensation. Those workers returned to their posts late Wednesday evening after negotiations got under way.

On Thursday morning, air traffic controllers walked off the job to register frustration over what they said was faulty radar equipment. They, however, returned to their posts late Thursday evening.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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