Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 27th 2017 Contents BG4 | COVER STORY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JULY 27 • 2017
PSA head is ready to rumble
The battle lines have been drawn
and public servants are ready
Urging the nation to prepare
for an epic confrontation on
August 4, president of the
Public Services Association (PSA) Watson
Duke is warning that "things will get worse
before they get better."
However, he is reassuring workers that they
will not be abandoned as the battle wages on.
Accusing the Government of deliberately
executing a sinister plan to discredit public
servants in the eyes of the nation before step-
ping in as a "saviour" and offering Public Sector
Reform as the answer to stamp out corruption
and mismanagement, Duke declared, "enough
Set to lead the 20,000 members under his
charge in a revolutionary move which will see
the entire trade union movement unite next
Friday, Duke is blasting the current adminis-
tration for acting in an "oppressive and unre-
Unwilling to confirm if it was a total shut-
down of the public service, Duke said the
planned action was reminiscent of 2010 in
which they fought the same fight against the
establishment of the T&T Revenue Authority
(TTRA) and Property Tax.
Labeling it as "funny" that back then they
were also battling with the current administra-
tion which was then headed by former prime
minister Patrick Manning, Duke said, "They
are anti-labour and they have not been upfront
Calling for unification on all fronts, Duke
said the trade unions had agreed on a singular
purpose to raise awareness regarding job se-
curity both in the public and private sectors,
financial security and social issues affecting
the average mansuch as crime,healthcare and
Representing workers from more than 100
stateagencies, Dukeadmitted that after years
of being promisedimproved living and working
conditions by successive governments, "mem-
bers are battle weary.
"Theyhave been embattled for quite a long
time now, shuffling from government to gov-
ernment, being promised various things over
and overbut never having anything delivered,"
Duke notedthey had now reachedthe point
where the entire workforce was frustrated.
As a result, he urged members to, "take aday
off and come out and exercise your rights."
Unable to turn his back on the workers whom
he had served for the past eight years,Duke---a
father of three--- saidthe decision to run for a
third consecutive term as head of one of the
nation's largest trade unions was easy as he
listened to the "silent cries" of the members.
Claimingthere had beena "resuscitation of
hope, and a refocus and rechanneling of en-
ergies" since his announcement two weeks
ago,Duke especially appealed to officers from
the Board of Inland Revenue and Customs and
Excise Division to assemble early outside the
Ministry of Finance, Twin Towers, Independ-
ence Square as, "someone has to keep guard."
To employers threatening workers who were
intent on participating on the day, Duke ac-
cepted that reality, stating "they could trybut
we will not be deterredbecause workers have
already been victimised and have remained
silent for far too long."
He added, "This is a case of damned if you
do, damned if you don't."
Duke, who trained at the International La-
bour Organisation in Turin, Italy, declared,"We
intend to do and let them damn us. Then you
will see all the trade unions coming together
and taking a principled stance. We are much
more than them, we have more influence than
all of them."
Pressed about whether a collaborative ap-
proach might have been more appropriate to
employ versus a combative one given the eco-
nomic realities currently facing T&T, Dukede-
nied this saying, "The current administration
is not about collaboration and there is evidence
of that all around."
He added that though the tripartite system
was readily accepted as one which would have
included public and private sector input along
with the trade unions, Duke stated that unions
were "fooled" into this thinking as the govern-
ment had clearly demonstrated its "disrespect"
by shutting it down and making unilateral
decisions to fire individuals and cut salaries.
"They don't want consultation, they want
to run a monarchy in T&T."
Although the PSA has100 per cent of collec-
tive bargaining agreements outstanding from
2014 to present---of which seven are for at least
two consecutive periods---Duke said he does
not believe the country's coffers are as empty
as government is making it out to be.
In fact, he said, "I agree that the gov-
ernment has no money but not be-
cause they do not have revenue. They
are spending the money badly."
He said thousands of dollars were
being spent monthly to leave the
lights on in government offices after hours;rent
being paid to private landlords for premises
that are not OSH-compliant; and money is
being spent to carry out maintenance and re-
pairs on sub-standard buildings.
Challenging claims that public servants were
underproductive, Duke exclaimed, "It is a well
orchestrated move to paint public officers as
unproductive and deemed to be lazy when,
in some case, workers are being deliberately
Duke said this was evident in the attempts
todenyindividuals basic items such as drinking
water,toilet paper, hand soap and paper towels
as wasthe case several months ago whenwork-
ers at the Treasury Division were told to walk
with their own supplies as the ministry no
longer had the funds to continue purchasing
He added that a similar situation was tak-
ing place regarding the printing of government
cheques as he said the paper needed for it was
no longer being supplied by the relevant agen-
"They (the government) are literally shutting
down the public service and this is being done
because they want to create reforms but in an
aggressive manner," Duke claimed, adding that
it was, "one where they lick-up and then try
Duke said the employees of BIR and Cus-
toms and Excise would be among the first set
of casualties as the government intended to
retrench everyone before inviting people to
re-apply for work on a contractual basis.
On the issue of corruption in the public ser-
vice---which he agreed was a problem---Duke
said: "Theonly way to deal with corrupt public
officials is to enforce the law."
He went on, "If individuals are violating the
law, prosecute them but it is high time we en-
actthe law. Bringin procurement practices to
ensure the public service is working as it should
so there would be no need for corruption or
for someone to pay a bribe."
Regarding his political aspirations, Duke said
while he would have been happy to be on his
way out, he "looked around and realised that
workers had been sandwiched between the
devil and the deep blue sea" and if he were to
move on, he would run the risk of having the
public sector wiped out and all the good he had
managed to accomplish also erased.
Even as he continues to ready himself for
leadership of the Tobago House of Assembly
(THA) as its minority leader, and to contest the
island's twopolitical seats whenever the general
election is called, Duke promised, "I am not
going anywhere again.I have changed my mind.
If they want a fight, they will get a fight but I
will not allow them to destroy public officers
and wipe out my history and that of those who
have served before me."
PSA president Watson Duke. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE
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