Students and adults were gravely affected on the first day of back-to-school as the workers of the Montego Bay Metro Company Limited went on strike early Monday morning, September 3, at their Bogue office in Montego Bay.
The workers who started striking from as early as 5 am were very clear in expressing their dissatisfaction of the conditions with which they’ve been working under for far too long now.
Among their grievances were having to operate defective buses, issues with their health insurance, and the disparity in pay and treatment between the Montego Bay Metro and its sister company the Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation (JUTC).
Island Supervisor for the National Workers’ Union (NWU) Kurt Fletcher who was also at the strike assured the workers that the union stands with them in mutual support.
“We’ve said to them [the government] on several occasions – we’re not opposed to us reaching parity over time. We’ve put that option to them; we’ve been putting that option to them over the last four years. Now, the workers are very frustrated as you can see. We apologize to the public at large but patience has run out,” said Fletcher.
Perhaps it is the disparity concerning remuneration which has dealt the harshest blow. Fletcher claims that “they’ve become aware that a washer for the JUTC earns more than a driver at the Montego Bay Metro. We work under the same employer/ government. There ought to be no differentiation.”
The JUTC, he says, is privileged to a tax break on fuel whereby they don’t pay the Special Consumption Tax (SCT) but the Montego Bay Metro pays. “In some ways we empathize with the management here at Montego Metro that they are working under adverse conditions where the playing field is not level between the sister companies JUTC and Montego Bay Metro,” lamented Fletcher.
Aggrieved striking workers cheered him on in agreement as he spoke.
The strike affected persons from the parishes of St. James, Hanover and Trelawny. However, information reaching this newspaper revealed that to assuage some of the hindrance of the strike on the students, the workers scheduled four buses to run predominantly school routes to facilitate the children.
Fletcher revealed that he has reached out to the respective bodies regarding the plights of the workers but to no avail. “We’ve written to them early in the summer saying that the school term is coming up let us solve all these issues before the school term comes up. We met with the minister when we asked for the commitments in writing and what we got was a roundabout of some promises,” said Fletcher.