Staff at JUTC panicking

Henry advises bus company's board to call in unions

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, October 14, 2017

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TRANSPORT Minister Michael Henry has ordered the board of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) to call in unions representing its staff, who are said to now be panicking over the possibility of job cuts at the State-owned bus company.

The move comes after media reports that the JUTC is overstaffed by hundreds of employees, costing the country $300 million per annum, and that a rationalisation exercise is to take place to decide the fate of the extra employees.

The revelation was made at Wednesday's sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament.

“We are dealing with the displacement of individuals, who are breadwinners for their families. Already, jitters are running through the company as staff members consider their tenure. I have instructed the board chairman to ensure that the unions that represent these workers be called in immediately, to sit at the table and have meaningful engagements and to arrive at decisions in a mutually acceptable manner,” Henry said at a press conference at his ministry yesterday.

He stressed that the overstaffing by 411 individuals did not happen overnight and must be put in context.

“In 2013, the staff complement at the JUTC was 1,733, by 2014 this grew to 1,813, and in 2015 it further climbed to 2,126, and in April 2016 it had gone to 2,237,” he outlined, pointing to what he said was “inherited legacy” which the Government will have to correct.

In fact, Henry said, there has been limited hiring of staff since May 2016 as a result of a change in policy by the new board, resulting in the termination of one contract following an internal audit.

The JUTC currently has 151 acting positions, 339 temporary employees and a total of 691 individuals on its establishment.

As it relates to the allocation for repairs and rehabilitation of units, which Managing Director of the JUTC Paul Abrahams said needed at least $1.1 billion more than the $1.3 billion allotted in this year's budget, Minister Henry indicated that a submission is to be made to Cabinet on the matter.

Abrahams had also noted that the company has been managing to “hold it together” since May with the current limping fleet, but that within a year new buses will be needed.

However, under the strictures of the Government's deal with the International Monetary Fund, there may be no new buses until 2021, he pointed out. Instead, Henry said “creative” means are therefore being used to extend the life of the fleet.

“You cannot be asking for new buses and you have [been] waiting for parts to repair… repair what you have first, put those on the road and then come back to us with the rationalisation of how we can justify buying more, because the reality is if you're putting the buses out there at a cost that is not totally applicable to the cost of transport, you're subsidising losses,” he argued.

Meanwhile, the transport minister pointed to measures that are being implemented to improve the efficiency and viability of the JUTC, including a route rationalisation exercise in which non-performing routes are being assessed with the intention to remove units and assign them to more profitable routes. This, he said, would allow the Transport Authority to franchise those routes to private operators.

Seven such routes are being looked at along with another 14, which are being reassessed for possible discontinuation.

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