Wed | Nov 29, 2023

JUTC, union agree resumption of public bus service

Published:Friday | March 31, 2023 | 1:40 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses parked at the Twickenham Park depot in St Catherine after drivers took strike action on Thursday.
Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses parked at the Twickenham Park depot in St Catherine after drivers took strike action on Thursday.

AN AGREEMENT was reached between the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU) late Thursday evening for bus drivers to return to work.

The drivers had taken strike action to press their demands for adjustments to the Government’s new salary compensation package.

UAWU First Vice-President Clifton Grant said the agreement reached at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) during an emergency meeting between the union and the management of the state-owned bus company would have resulted in normalcy returning to the sector, starting with the 7 p.m. shift on Thursday.

Drivers at the Kingston, Spanish Town, and Portmore JUTC depots turned up at work on Thursday but stood outside the gates, demanding that the transportation ministry revise the compensation package, which they claimed they had not agreed to.

“The new rate doesn’t even make any sense, because for years, we have been underpaid as drivers. It’s time for it to end. No bus nah drive out of the depot until we get a talk from the prime minister or the minister,” said a spokesman for the disgruntled drivers.

Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mikael Phillips called on the Government to immediately intervene in the dispute.

Phillips said that to the best of his knowledge, the strike was not about dissatisfaction with the level of salary adjustments under the Government’s new compensation review programme, but a failure by JUTC management to explain its implementation and the impact on the take-home pay of the drivers.

The group spokesman said they are forced to drive defective buses, and when tickets are issued by the police, they accumulate points on their licences and are required to pay the fines out of their own pockets.

“If we are getting the proper pay and working conditions right, they would have a very good transportation company,” the group spokesman said.

Included in the agreement reached on Thursday is a request for full refund of amounts paid to the UAWU-represented workers as salary advance in December 2022, to be paid before April 1, 2023.

It has also been agreed that negotiations between the parties will now take place at the local level next week to finalise arrangements for a repayment plan as well as issues relating to certain deductions made for some allowances previously received.

The parties are required to return to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at 10 a.m. for updates regarding the dispute.

In the meantime, the parties have been asked to avoid any form of discrimination against workers.

Meanwhile, many commuters in St Catherine, who rely daily on the JUTC’s public transportation system, were seriously affected by the strike.

The action forced them to dish out $100 more to get to Kingston and back throughout the course of yesterday as route taxi and Coaster bus operators added $50 to regular fares.

“I work with a monthly budget that factors in my monthly cost for transportation using the JUTC bus, which is cheaper than the Coaster buses. This morning, I was shocked when they were charging $50 more one way for the trip, which they normally charge $150 for,” said one commuter.

That commuter told The Gleaner that she missed work because she was unable to afford the extra cost.

“At this rate, it would cost me $100 more than what I had budgeted for, and I just can’t find it, so I had to stop from work today. Don’t even sure if I will have a job tomorrow,” another commuter, who declined to give her name, said with a look of concern on her face.