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Minister Sharma: $92m Port workers overtime unacceptable
Minister of Transport Chandresh Sharma says the $92 million spent in overtime for employees of Port of Port-of-Spain is unacceptable. He made the comment yesterday during a discussion on inefficiencies at the Port and Customs and Excise and other regulatory bodies at a Trade Facilitation Forum hosted by the T&T Manufacturer’s Association (TTMA) and the Shipping Association of T&T(SATT).
The forum at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, featured contributions from Comptroller of Customs Fitzroy John; Colin Lucas, CEO, Port Authority of T&T; Ashely Taylor, president of Plipdeco and SATT; Trevor Townsend, director of TTMA; and Trade Minister Vasant Bharath. Commenting on issues plaguing the maritime sector, Sharma said: “Over the years we have cultivated all the wrong practices.
“Too many of us are too politically involved. We are going to change the rules of engagement.” He said at the last count, the wage bill at the Port was $238 million a year. “That is not bad, what is bad is the $92 million spent in overtime for the 1600 workers. “We are way above our wage bill and our numbers,” the minister said. Michael Annisette president of Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade union (SWWTU), who was asked to comment later in the discussion, said the real problem is poor institutional and operational capacity at the Port.
He said if the Government is serious, it would give highest priority to addressing several issues plaguing the Port. “It’s something I raised with the minister—the question of treating with the Port not as a bastard child, but with priority and knowing that whatever happens on the Port will affect our economy. Then the focus on the Port becomes absolutely necessary,” he said. Annisette said the workers and the union are always the first to blame.
“We try to sweep things under the carpet and make excuses and make the union and workers the problem rather than dealing with the issues.” Annisette said compared to other ports, like Panama and Jamaica, which recently expanded and increased capacity and resources, T&T is not operating on a level playing field because equipment is 35 years old, does not meet the requirements of the Environmental Management Authority and the yardage is too small.
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