President of the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) Vincent Cabrera has written to T&T’s three daily newspapers calling on management to provide armed security for reporters, photographers and cameramen going into high-risk crime areas. Additionally, Cabrera is also demanding that these categories of workers be provided with bulletproof vests and transport to these places to ensure their safety while on assignment. The letter was sent last week and today is the deadline for the T&T Guardian, Newsday and Express to respond. Cabrera said yesterday that if no positive response is forthcoming the matter will be taken further. “If they don’t respond, it will become a grievance and we can submit that grievance to the Minister of Labour and if there is no action there, we can go straight to the Industrial Court,” he said. Cabrera said the Occupational Health and Safety Act afforded workers protection, as employers were mandated to “provide proper working conditions for employees.”
He added that the law also provided workers with the right to “remove themselves and not go into an area where they may suffer loss of life or limb. If employers refuse to accede to our requests, workers legally have the right not to cover those stories and not suffer victimisation afterwards.” Cabrera has promised that BIGWU will take action if there was no response by today. President of the Media Association (MATT) and Editor at the T&T Guardian, Suzanne Sheppard sought to make it clear that MATT “could not set policies for individual media houses.” Instead, she said it was up to each media house to determine its own policy on the increased dangers faced by workers. Urging media practitioners to “be mindful of certain high-risk situations,” Sheppard said the employee and employer both had a role to play in ensuring that journalists’ safety was not compromised when covering assignments.
Pointing out that this kind of situation was not unique, as journalists the world over worked in various scenarios, including war zones, reporting on drug traffickers and other dangerous assignments, Sheppard said “Times are changing and we must change the way we do things.”
President of the T&T Publishers’ and Broadcasters Association Kiran Maharaj declined to comment on Cabrera’s demands, saying she had not received the union’s letter. Maharaj said media houses faced the problem of how to make news staff safe while reporting, but it was something that needed to be worked out internally. She said the topic was on the agenda to be discussed at the next TTPBA meeting, scheduled for next month. “Reporters are passionate about their work, but they must also understand they cannot put their lives on the line,” she said. Maharaj said the demand for armed security to accompany workers on assignments in high-risk crime areas would affect smaller media houses, as some might not be able to afford it and would therefore be forced to decide not to report on a particular issue.