Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 16th 2014 Contents A8
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, August 16, 2014
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Staff at the San Fernando branch
of the Ministry of Food Production
acted illegally when they walked off
the job on Thursday, says Food Pro-
duction Minister Devant Maharaj.
Yesterday, however, Public Services
Association president Watson Duke,
who led Thursday s action, again
addressed staff outside the 103-year-
old building, telling them not to return
to work until the health and safety
issues are resolved.
In a telephone interview, Maharaj
said an Occupational Safety and
Health Authority (OSHA) officer, on
the invitation of the management,
inspected the building at Kings Wharf
and found the employees were not
in any imminent danger.
"And any walkout is an illegal act,"
said the minister.
Some of the concerns cited by the
OSHA, he said, were a missing panel-
box cover, a leak in the staffroom and
a water tank in the wrong place.
He said the director of human
resources, Peter Richards, told the
staff any industrial action or any
action regarding the OSH Act would
not be accepted, given the report by
the OSH officer, and appropriate
action would be taken.
Asked if he was calling on the staff
to return to work, he said, "I am not
calling on anybody. All of them are
big man and woman. Let them walk
off the job if they want."
He claimed that some trade unions
had hidden agendas and had used
workers to their detriment.
"Remember, Mr (Ancel) Roget has
68 persons from NP unemployed;
remember, Mr Roget has about 12
TCL workers unemployed now
because of his advice to walk off the
job and engage in all kinds of action
without proven basis."
Saying he had the interests of
workers at heart, he said over the last
five months the ministry had been
trying to find a suitable building to
relocate the office.
But he said it was not an easy task
because of the many issues involved,
including ensuring that the new
building had Town and Country Plan-
ning approval, as well as meeting the
statutory and OSHA requirements.
Nevertheless, he said, the ministry
had taken remedial steps to ensure
that the workers were safe.
"So I will not [accept] any illegal
action," said Maharaj.
When contacted, Richards con-
firmed that an OSHA officer visited
the building on Thursday.
"Recognising that there was a
problem with staff indicating certain
infractions in the ministry s building
on King s Wharf, what the ministry
decided was to call OSHA to do an
He said the official came on Thurs-
day morning and was expected to
submit a report on Monday, but in
the meantime the ministry s health
and safety officer, who accompanied
the OSHA inspector, said the latter
found the workers were in no immi-
He said the ministry was in the
process of contacting the T&T Elec-
tricity Commission, Fire Services and
the Caribbean Industrial Research
Institute to do inspections next week
to see whether there were any defi-
ciencies in the building.
He said the staff came out yes-
terday, but were hesitant about enter-
ing the building. Attempts were being
made to relocate the staff to ministry
branches in Penal and Craignish,
Princes Town, to ensure that work
was not disrupted, he said.
An ailing man was on the brink
of tears yesterday while waiting
for his welfare cheque, as Public
Services Association (PSA) pres-
ident Watson Duke advised Social
Development workers to walk off
Duke, who yesterday continued
his tour of public service offices
in San Fernando, advised the
workers to sign their work register
on Monday and sign back out
immediately if they did not feel
comfortable with their working
The customer, who did not give
his name, said since last week he
had been to the Independence
Avenue, San Fernando office twice
in an effort to get his cheque.
"I just came from the hospital.
I am an asthma patient. I came to
get my cheque and what going
on?" he said as his voice broke
"I feel really terrible about this,"
the man said, as Duke met with
staff and advised them not to
accept their current unsafe working
The man s comments were
echoed by an elderly woman who
said she was from Marabella. She
said she had been waiting all
morning to have her welfare
cheque reviewed and then Duke
arrived and called the workers to
"I find it rather bad. They should
attend to the others before this,"
The Guardian understands that
the Social Development office has
been closing for the past couple
of months at 11 am every day.
Duke was asked by reporters at
the San Fernando office about the
suffering and stress caused to the
public by his action. He said, "I
sympathise with the people. The
PSA will do everything in its power
so that they are served. However,
what we will not do is to compro-
mise the health and the welfare of
our members at their expense. It
is the state s responsibility."
Yesterday s visit follows Duke s
tour, on Thursday, of the Public
Transport Service Corporation
(PTSC) and Food Production min-
istry offices at the San Fernando
Wharf where workers walked off
the job. They complained of major
health and safety violations at the
Duke said the PSA had initiated
a "zero tolerance" drive and would
be initiating legal action next week
to bring the State to account for
the poor working conditions public
servants were forced to work under.
He said he had advised workers
at the Social Development office
that if they went to work on Mon-
day and they did not see an office
that was totally compliant with
the health and safety regulations
then they "have no right to work
in squalor and compromising sit-
uations and the PSA will support
them if they sign out immediately
after signing in."
"Under that law the employer
has a duty, which is to ensure that
all employees are provided with a
safe environment, a healthy work-
ing environment and one that pro-
tects their welfare," he said.
He questioned whether there
were fire certificates, air quality
monitoring and a health surveil-
lance reporting book for employee
concerns to be recorded. He said
the staff had to share the same
washrooms with the public at the
office as well.
"We are saying it is wrong for
the members of society to access
service in a dilapidated place like
this and it is wrong to serve them
in an environment like this. We
demand better," Duke said.
He said he would be embarking
on more tours of public offices.
Duke also returned to the PTSC
and Food Production ministry
He said the workers "still feel
unsafe, that their health and their
well-being is being diminished and
compromised by working under
those existing conditions."
The workers, he said, refused to
Yesterday, buses operated as
usual in San Fernando and there
were no stranded passengers at
PSA president on warpath
Zero tolerance for
Public Service Association president Watson Duke address workers at the San Fernando Social Services
Centre, yesterday on Independence Avenue, San Fernando. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL
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