Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 12th 2014 Contents A5
Saturday, July 12, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
The Industrial Court at St Vincent
Street, Port-of-Spain, was the centre
of attention yesterday, as Public Serv-
ices Association (PSA) president Wat-
son Duke and immigration officer
Purdy Babwah appeared before the
court for allegedly breaching an
injunction stopping immigration staff
from taking industrial action.
Immigration officers, PSA members
and other trade unions gathered shortly
after 10 am outside the court, where
they remained until the end of the hear-
ing, which took about five hours. Heck-
ling from passers-by, who shouted, "Jail
for Duke," didn t stop the workers from
chanting their union songs.
Meanwhile, the Port-of-Spain pass-
port office was closed at 12 pm yes-
terday for renovation works to go ahead.
Staff said the office was expected to
reopen on Monday.
Chief education officer of the Oilfield
Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Ozzie
Warwick said his union was there in
solidarity with the PSA and immigration
"We believe that no employer, no
employer whatsoever, in particular the
State, should be able to take out an
injunction against workers who are
exercising their right," he said.
"Workers have a right to remove
themselves from conditions that are
unsafe. As a matter of fact, OWTU
fought for that right---Section 15 of the
Less than a month ago, during and
after Labour Day celebrations, leaders
of the Joint Trade Union Movement
(JTUM) described Duke as a traitor and
an agent of the Government, after the
PSA pulled out of labour celebrations
at the last minute.
Asked if the rift between the PSA
and JTUM had affected the OWTU s
position in the matter, Warwick said,
"Workers issues come first. Regardless
of that history, the bottom line is those
workers took legitimate action and as
the OWTU, we support, endorse and
are in solidarity with them."
A last-ditch legal challenge has
delayed a ruling by the Industrial
Court on whether Public Services
Association (PSA) president Wat-
son Duke breached an injunction
preventing Immigration Division
staff from continuing to withhold
their services over health and
After hearing lengthy submis-
sions during a four-hour hearing
at the St Vincent Street, Port-of-
Spain, courthouse, the five-mem-
ber panel of judges were forced to
postpone the trial until next Friday
to allow witnesses for the State
and the union to be brought to
court to testify.
But before adjournment, the
panel was able to hear brief tes-
timony from acting Chief Immi-
gration Officer Gerry Downes, the
main witness of Labour and Small
and Micro Enterprise Development
Minister Errol Mc Leod, who
obtained the injunction against
Duke and the workers last week,
after almost two months of activity
led by the union virtually crippling
the division s operations.
The proceedings, in which
McLeod has asked the court to jail
Duke and Purdy Babwah, one of
the immigration officers who
refused to work at the department s
Frederick Street office after the
injunction was granted last Thurs-
day, was almost stopped before it
began when the union s attorneys
submitted that the court should
not hear the case as it was not an
Refering to the role of the Cab-
inet in the procedure for appointing
and extending terms of judges,
Duke s lawyer, Douglas Mendes,
SC, said the judges decision in
the case was may be biased by
their lack of security of tenure in
Saying the proceedings were
brought by McLeod on the advice
of the Attorney General, the Cab-
inet minister entrusted with the
responsibility of deciding the fate
of the judges, Mendes said: "The
impression of the public is that
you are beholden on the executive
for continuity on their office."
But the head of McLeod s legal
team, Russell Martineau, SC,
described Mendes comments as
ill-founded and misplaced, noting
he provided no empirical evidence
to substantiate his claim.
"For decades we have had con-
fidence in this court," Martineau
said, as he sought to dispel
Mendes claim of a perceived lack
of independence of the court.
Martineau said the judges were
entrusted with the responsibility
of dealing with instances of con-
tempt against its orders and
injunctions and had to do so in
Duke s case to protect the court s
"When a court makes an order
it must be obeyed. If not, we then
have the law of the jungle," Mar-
tineau said. See Page A7
Duke case adjourned
State, PSA need time to gather witnesses
Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke, left, speaks to union members outside the
Industrial Court on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, after the adjournment of contempt
proceedings brought against him. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE
After taking almost half an hour to
discuss the issue with her colleagues,
Industrial Court president Deborah
Thomas-Felix returned and
announced that the court had decided
that it had the jurisdiction to continue
to preside over the case.
Thomas-Felix also dismissed an
application from Mendes that the
judges refer the issue of the
constitutionality of judge's decision
not to recluse themselves to the High
Judges Lawrence Achong, Albert
Aberdeen, Kyril Jack and Kathleen
George-Marcell are also on the panel.
In his pre-trial remarks which
followed the decision, Mendes said
his clients' defence to the contempt
allegation was that the staff's action
in refusing to work over health and
safety issues was exempted from the
definition of industrial action under
the Industrial Relations Act.
Mendes, in his cross-examination
of Downes, questioned about a
failing inspection certificate
prepared by Occupational Safety
and Health Agency last Friday.
"Do you expect your staff to be
satisfied with that?" Mendes
"No I don't expect them to be
satisfied," Downes responded.
Downes admitted that there had
been issues with toilets, ceiling tiles
and hanging wires at the office, but
claimed steps have been taken to
rectify them since the inspection.
He also admitted management
had not complied with some
aspects of occupational safety and
health regulations, including having
no fire inspection approval for the
building and not establishing a clear
policy for pregnant employees.
"Your place might not be safe in
a fire?" Mendes asked.
Downes answered, "Correct."
In an interview after the hearing,
Duke said he was advised by his
lawyers no to comment on the
However, he said: "In the interest
of my members and the public, we
will continue to look at ways of
bringing some relief to both sides.
So let's see how that turns out over
the weekend and how it
materialises next week.
"We have a strong belief in our
position, but we will not try to
interfere with the judgment that
the court is about to make."
IMMIGRATION BOSS ADMITS TO ISSUES
Vincent Cabrera, president of the
Banking, Insurance and General
Workers Union (BIGWU) and a
member of JTUM, in a telephone
interview, said he too supported the
workers, adding they were not
responsible for the public's suffering.
He said: "The society has fallen
into a habit (where) when workers
take action, the society blames the
workers instead of the employer. In
this case the blame lies squarely at
the feet of the employer.
"The OSH Act was passed since
2004 and the present Government
has been in office for four years, so
they have no excuse for not having
proper conditions for employees."
He said the Government was also
trying to shift the focus from the
workers and their problems to Duke.
"There's a tendency for employers
to personalise issues and in this case
they're saying Duke did this and that.
"But it's not Duke. Duke is the
president of an association that
Cabrera added: "The Government
was unnecessarily confrontational
and instead of dealing with the
issues they're dealing with the
Emmanuel Henry, second vice
president of the Estate Police
Association, agreed Government was
trying to dodge the real issue.
Speaking outside the Industrial
Court, he said, "The Government is
trying to sidestep the real issue,
which is the health of the workers.
They must correct the problems in
these buildings, first where the
immigration officers continue to
work, and all the other buildings that
are unsafe and unhealthy for the
workers to occupy."
Saying his association was in
solidarity with the PSA, he added, "If
workers and the unions stand in
support of the workers, no injunction
could stand or hold against the
But a former head of the National
Union of Government and Federated
Workers' Union (NUGFW), Robert
Giuseppi, said the PSA could have
handled the conflict better.
He said, "I thought that the union,
at this point in time, the tactics could
have been conducted in a way to
"We know that health and safety is
a very important issue and they have
a right to be heavily concerned, but
everything has a process and I think
that's where they (PSA) lapsed.
"I saw biting statements on the
side of my comrades engendering
more action to be taken and that was
a sort of slip-up."
He added: "An injunction is an
injunction, no matter what you say
the OSH Act says and Industrial
Relations (Act) says. A superior court
gave you an injunction. He (Duke)
should have challenged it in the
proper way instead of calling media
FORMER NUGFW LEADER: PSA MISGUIDED
BIGWU HEAD BACKS PSA TOO
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