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Retired telecoms workers demand higher pensions ; union willing to abandon retroactive payments

Even as retired telecommunications workers continued to agitate for higher pensions, the Guyana Postal and Telecommunications Workers Union (GPTWU) said it was willing to forgo retroactive lump sums owed and settle for pensions far higher than the GUY$18,000 being currently paid.

The aged retirees of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T)- many previously employed by the state-owned Guyana Telecommunications Corporation (GTC)- on Tuesday picketed the Finance Ministry to press their case.

They say they are only getting monthly minimum pensions of GUY$18,000 far lower than their last salaries although many of them had earned much higher salaries at the time of retirement.

GPTWU President, Harold Shepherd said correspondence as late as September 2013 to President Donald Ramotar, then President Bharrat Jagdeo and Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh have not even been acknowledged.

Shepherd said if the issue was not resolved, the union and the retired employees would take legal action with the expectation that justice would be swift because many of the aggrieved persons are elderly and several others have died without receiving their right pensions. “We may want to seek some legal advice. At the same time we don’t want , if we decide to go to court, is for the issue to be protracted because these are all senior citizens. They must enjoy their rightful pension before they are ready to go home to their maker,” he told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

At the same time, the union and the retirees appeared to be holding out the olive branch to government by signalling that they are willing to drop their demand for retroactive pension payments. The GPTWU said it would opt for the calculation of liveable pensions that would increase in coming years as would public servants’ salaries and government pensions.

“I believe that we can work with an adjusted pension…I believe we can negotiate a way out of it,” said Shepherd. He hopes that retired technicians and managers would take home pensions of at least GUY$50,000 and GUY$100,000.

Skeete, who retired two years ago as a Maintenance Manager after more than 20 years with GT&T and a similar number of years with the predecessor company, is now taking home the minimum pension far less than his last salary of more than GUY$300,000. He is also receiving Social Security pension based on his contributions to the National Insurance Scheme. “We earned this. They owe us this. We don’t have to negotiate for this. We have already qualified. That is enshrined in the agreement,” Skeete added.

He recalled that at the time of privatisation, government was required to pay GUY$592 million to Demerara Life Assurance Company to include GTC workers who had then been working with the new company, GT&T. However, the phone company decided to quash the talks because government representatives had been repeatedly absent from a number of meetings that had been called to discuss the matter.

Stella Douglas, who retired three years ago as a Welfare Officer at GT&T, lamented the plight that she has now found herself in after working with both phone companies.

“Regardless of the number of years you had served under the Guyana Telecommunications Corporation, regardless of your position, regardless of your salary, everybody is receiving the same pension,” she said from the picket line on Main Street outside the Ministry of Finance.

The estimated 25 pensioners held placards outside the Finance Ministry bearing several slogans that included “GTC pensioners want their right pensions and benefits now, not after we die,” “Minister of Finance, Guysuco workers get their bonus. What about us- GTC/GTT pensioners?” , “Guysuco workers strike, they get paid. GTT/GTC complete their tasks. Where is their rightful pension? Pay them now,” “How many more of us GTC pensioners must die without receiving our GTC pension benefits? Pay us now. We need it now,” “Govt sold its 20 percent in GTT for millions USD. Poor GTC pensioners have not been paid. Pay us now,” and “GTC/GT&T pensioners have sacrificed their entire working life for the development of Guyana. They deserve better treatment,” and