There will be penalities for participating in Friday’s planned labour protest.
Essential public services—from teachers to prison officers—who withold their services during the planned Day of Rest and Reflection risk fines and jail. And public servants who stay away from their jobs also run the risk of not getting paid.
That was the warning yesterday from Public Administration Marlene Mc Donald following the call by a number of labour leaders for their members in particular—and the public as a whole—to stay away from their jobs on Friday. She reminded public servants that Government had paid them monies owed and had maintained public sector jobs despite retrenchment in neighbouring islands.
The labour sector’s call is a response to the OWTU’s planned day of Rest and Reflection to send a message on Government’s performance and the planned shutdown of the Petrotrin refinery.
But yesterday McDonald said she wanted to discourage citizens from taking “such irresponsible and injudicious action.”
To public servant she said, “As a rule, persons employed in the essential services are prohibited from withholding their services whether or not in sympathy with institutions in which they are not employed.”
She said such employees include members of the Defence Force, Prison and Fire Services and Teaching Service and Central Bank employees.
“Should any of these prohibited employees breach the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) they’re subject to fine and imprisonment,” McDonald said.
“Public Servants who stay away from their jobs without authorisation in response to irrational and irresponsible calls from certain labour leaders run the risk of being recorded as absent from work without pay.”
She added, “Public Servants are reminded that in spite of the prevailing adverse economic circumstances which the Government has had to face since its return to office three years ago, in keeping with the tenets of good industrial relations practice Government has only recently had to borrow approximately $5 billion dollars to honour the commitment imposed upon the current PNM administration by the previous regime - on the eve of the 2015 General Elections—to liquidate arrears of salaries and other emoluments due to public servants.
“The Government willingly and wholeheartedly discharged that responsibility. In addition, Government has been sparing no effort to protect the jobs of public servants and others resulting in the fact that, unlike other neighbouring countries, there has been no retrenchment in T&T’s Public Service.”
Replying to T&T Guardian question on whether her statement could be seen as a threat to workers, McDonald said: “This isn’t a threat. This is merely he Public Administration Minister speaking to all stakeholders, reminding them of the law and their responsibility in this matter to citizens - in everything we do, we must place country first.”
Contacted on the issue yesterday, Prison Officers’ Association president Ceron Richards said, “I have no comment regarding any threat coming from the state.”
TTUTA president Lindsay Doodai, who was one of the first union leaders to call for members to join the proteast in solidarity with Petrotrin workers, meanwhile said, “We’ll consider the minister’s view. Initially, we’d intended participating in Friday’s effort. Our General Council will advise us.”
But OWTU Research/Education officer Ozzie Warwick said the union will seek to increase mobilisation for Friday’s action in San Fernando and meet other leaders on the issue, adding they plan to respond to the minster’s threat.