Close to 300 police officers attached to the 14 municipal corporations staged a sickout action yesterday in protest of them not receiving a $1,000 special monthly allowance. The protest, which halted all financial transactions at the regional corporations, took Minister of Local Government Dr Suruj Rambachan by surprise. He said yesterday afternoon he was in the Parliament all day and was unaware the officers had engaged in sickout action, which he condemned.
In a telephone interview, Rambachan accused them of abandoning their jobs. “I do not take kindly to people abandoning their jobs instead of sitting down to discuss the issue constructively,” he said. The officers, who are not unionised, are protesting their exclusion from a $1,000 special monthly allowance which the Government gave to other members of the protective services. It was granted to regular police officers sometime ago but in the 2012/13 budget, Finance Minister Larry Howai announced that Special Reserve Police (SRPs) also would benefit.
No mention was made of municipal police, said Aura Martin-Sealy, an officer and lawyer. In a statement, she said at meetings Rambachan had assured they also would benefit from the allowance. However, Rambachan denied that. “The officers have not approached me formally about this matter and they have taken a level of action without coming to sit and talk about it,” he said.
Told the action was likely to continue indefinitely, Rambachan said he would have to speak with Minister of National Security Jack Warner to make arrangements to secure the assets of the various regional corporations. He added: “We cannot leave the assets of the corporations unprotected. “I would have expected that when it comes to people who have security as their occupation they would have taken a more responsible approach. “When people take action like that and endanger the assets of the corporations, it is highly regrettable.”
He said while the officers were within their right to exercise their prerogative, “sickout does not solve the issue. “If there is a problem with interpretation, you do not abandon your jobs, instead of sitting down and discussing the issue,” he added He called on the officers to wait until Howai gave his reply in the budget debate.
At the San Fernando City Corporation, the front door remained locked for a greater part of the day, as only two constables, one corporal and an acting ACP reported for duty. At the Point Fortin Borough Corporation, only half of the 32 officers reported for duty. They said the situation would be intensified today. San Fernando mayor Dr Navi Muradali called for good sense to prevail and for the officers to return to work.
President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Anand Ramesar also is supporting the municipal police He believed the municipal police officers should be included and pledged, even though they did not represent them, to communicate with Warner to intervene and settle the situation. Ramesar said the work of the municipal officers was unique and while their absence from work could be deemed a threat to the corporations, he did not think regular police could fill the gap in a short space of time.