Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 8th 2014 Contents TAUREEF MOHAMMED
No court injunction can stop immigra-
tion workers from staying away from work
until proper conditions are provided, says
president of the Public Service Association
(PSA) Watson Duke.
Shortly after 7 am yesterday, staff at the
Port-of-Spain passport office walked off
the job, leaving scores of frustrated people
stranded without passports.
The situation was more the same in San
Fernando, where over 100 customers were
turned away. Only few emergency cases
were dealt with. Customers were told the
office had minimal staff and it was not
known when operations would be back to
Speaking yesterday at a press conference
at the PSA s headquarters at Abercromby
Street, Port-of-Spain, Duke said "industrial
action", which the injunction sought to stop,
did not include refusing to work under poor
health and safety conditions.
Duke produced a report from the Occu-
pational Health and Safety Authority (Osha),
dated July 4, that identified health and safety
concerns at the immigration building at 67
Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain (see sidebar).
He also cited incidents---the explosion of
an electrical panel in which a T&TEC fore-
man was badly burned, the collapse of a
glass window from the second floor and
health problems among staff---that suggested
the building was unfit for work.
He said: "We don t really want this injunc-
tion to be discharged. It could remain because
it does not affect us. We have never protested.
"The injunction simply restrains us from
taking or continuing to take industrial action
within the meaning of the said act (Industrial
"What does it mean to take industrial
action within the act?
"It means to take things like strikes, lock-
outs, sympathy strikes, sit-ins, go slow...
this is what it means to take industrial action.
We have never done that."
In explaining the definition of "industrial
action" in the IRA, Duke said it did not
include "a failure to commence work or a
refusal to continue work by reason of the
fact that unusual circumstances have arisen
which are hazardous or injurious to health
"We are clear. The workers left on their
own accord because they are conscious. We
are not afraid of any contempt of court," he
According to Section 15 of the Occupa-
tional Safety and Health Act, Duke added:
"An employee may refuse to work or do
particular work where he has reason to
believe there is serious or imminent danger
to himself or others, or unusual circum-
stances have arisen which are hazardous or
injurious to his health or life.
"There is no court in this land that can
take away the right for us to protect our
"I ask the State to take it easy. The PSA
is responsible for 120 essential services and
I know they do not want to war with us,
especially where our rights are concerned
because we are not giving them any."
Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod could not
be reached yesterday as calls to his cellphone
were left unanswered and messages left were
Members of the public faced off with PSA
president Watson Duke yesterday, accusing
him and the immigration officers of breaking
the law and holding the country to ransom.
From 4 am, people lined the pavements
outside the passport office on Frederick
Street, Port-of-Spain, only to be told around
7 am that the office would be closed for the
day.Just after 7 am, Duke arrived and was
greeted with loud jeers from the public but
asked the crowd not to hold the immigration
workers responsible for the impasse.
"They came to work because they want
to work but this building compromises their
safety, health and welfare.
"The people to hold responsible is the
Minister of National Security and those per-
sons who are responsible for office accom-
modation," he said.
Duke said the immigration workers sur-
rendered their rights by agreeing to work
for half-day but that was not enough.
One person came to collect a passport for
his wife, who had to travel to the UK for
medical treatment. On the verge of tears,
he said: "Since April 13, something that sup-
posed to take two or three weeks and up to
now she can t get a passport to travel to
seek medical attention. It is ridiculous and
I smelling death.
"Duke and them fellas inside there holding
we to ransom."
One woman said she had to pay $11,000
to change her travel plans because she could
not get her grandson s passport on time.
"We are supposed to travel to London on
June 30. I paid to get the passport expedited
and up to now I haven t gotten it. On Friday
they told me it was printed but it had not
come down yet," she said.
Another woman, who works and lives in
the US, said she could lose her job.
"I applied for this passport in New York
since February and they said I have to come
here to get it.
"I have to start to work Friday and now
I have to make up some excuse to tell my
boss, otherwise I ll end up homeless.
"I living New York and this is the first
time I came back in 14 years and I m not
coming back again because of things like
this," she said. ---With reporting by Kevon
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
An interim committee, set up to address issues
raised by Immigration Division staff, is expected
to hold its first meeting today, National Security
Minister Gary Griffith said yesterday.
While explaining the rationale for the Government s
latest attempt to avert the crisis caused by almost
seven weeks of action by staff over health and safety
concerns, Griffith said:
"There is a dire need more than ever for both
parties to come to a sound resolution in the interest
of citizens who are being heavily inconvenienced."
Griffith said the decision to form the committee
came after a meeting with Public Services Association
(PSA) officials, immigration workers and Housing
and Urban Development Minister Dr. Roodal Moonilal
at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, yesterday.
"Moonilal, in his contribution, said his ministry
is poised to assist in swiftly remedying the health
and safety issues of workers to ensure that business
can return to normal for all as soon as possible," the
Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke speak to members of the public
outside the Immigration Division's office on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday,
after leading a walkout of employees over ongoing health and safety issues affecting the
building. PHOTOS:ANDRE ALEXANDER
Chamber of Commerce CEO Catherine Kumar
patiently waits outside the Immigration Division in
PoS passport office shuts down again
anger at Duke
What's wrong at
the passport office
The findings of the Osha report, dated July
4 and based on an inspection of 67 Frederick
• The building satisfied six out of 37 health
and safety parameters.
• No emergency plan based on the most
recent risk assessment.
• No valid fire certificate from the Fire
• Entire staircase was too narrow.
• Hanging wires throughout the building.
• All floors overcrowded with staff and
• Insufficient water storage.
• Inadequate ventilation.
• Non-functional emergency lighting.
meets on issues
The action by the immigration
workers started on May 14 as part of a
series of PSA-led protests against poor
health and safety working conditions in
the public service.
On Thursday, Minister of Labour
Errol Mc Leod got an injunction from
the Industrial Court which prevented
workers of the Immigration Division
from taking further industrial action.
The court order said: "The public
officers are hereby restrained from
taking and/or continuing to take such
industrial action within the meaning
and provisions of the Industrial
Relations Act until further order."
HISTORY OF THE DISPUTE
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