Van drivers refuse subsidy offered by government
September 22, 2006

Van drivers refuse subsidy offered by government

With a call to strike, the National Omni Buses Association (NOBA) launched their latest offensive in the month long dispute with the Ralph Gonsalves administration.

The effect of the withdrawal of services by the majority of the 500 members of NOBA, the nation’s main means of public transport was felt nationwide. From Fancy in the Windward to Chateaubelair in the Leeward only a sprinkling of buses defied their generals’ call to strike as NOBA ignored a passionate prime ministerial plea for a reconsideration of their decision to withdraw their service.{{more}}

Various business houses in the city felt the effects of the industrial action and some were up to news time, expressing their concern that the actions may be continue. Many spokespersons from various sectors have been weighing their opinion on the issue including the opposition New Democratic Party which sided with NOBA on the impasse.

The fuel of this surging conflict is Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ resolve that NOBA will not be granted its demanded fare increases amidst the recent hike in fuel charges which was announced in Parliament on Thursday, August 17. Acknowledging that the increase in fuel will have a negative impact on the van operators the prime minister announced his solution to the problem, a fuel subsidy which will in essence neutralize the impact of the increase to them.

In addition to the fuel subsidy, Prime Minister Gonsalves has also expressed his willingness to consider a subsidy arrangement on tyres and most used spare parts such as brake shoes for the mini busses. In addition to these subsidies, NOBA also asked for a waiver of licensing charges, the environmental tax, and a subsidy over a wider range of spare parts. Alternately there should be an increase in fares.

Not every one is leaning on NOBA’s side, even among their own membership. Some van drivers who disregarded the call to strike expressed their desire to give the government’s plan a chance and are urging their leadership to do the same. They have joined other vocal members of the public in saying that NOBA was being unreasonable considering the extended olive branch by the prime minister.

When SEARCHLIGHT spoke to Prime Minister Gonsalves before he left for New York to deliver a speech at the United Nation’s General Assembly, he called NOBA’s planned industrial action unreasonable. He was unperturbed about the potential for chaos that a long term strike could cause. He said that he planned to be in touch with government officials but was confident that his colleagues could handle any eventualities until his return.