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Shutdown at Family Court over unpaid $$
A two-hour protest shut down operations at the Family Court, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, resulting in dozens of single parents being unable to receive maintenance, closed courts and prisoners having to stay imprisoned because no cashiers were on hand to accept bail payments. The action by staff of the Family Court, Cipriani Boulevard, is likely to continue today and until the Judiciary fixes the court and treats with issues that include unpaid backpay over a five-year period and its failure to renew contracts or provide terms and conditions to employees. Workers complained the court was chronically understaffed and overburdened. “We have about 74 workers here doing the work designated for 180 people. Staff have to do the work of two or three people daily,” said one young woman.
Another man complained he had not received backpay from the court since 2009. Yesterday, magistrates closed the courts as there were no support officers. Trials were cancelled and people who came in with protection orders left without they being granted. The mediation and social services departments in the building were also disrupted. Single mother Natalia Maduro sat outside the court holding her head in frustration. “I came here to get the maintenance money for my son. I have no money for groceries or to send him to school and they are telling me I will have to come back tomorrow.” Maduro said. “How am I supposed to eat or feed my child? I don’t get paid again for another two weeks,” she added. Another mother expressed the same outrage while breastfeeding her three-month-old baby. Attorney-at-law Hyacinth Griffith stood in solidarity outside the court with the staff, posing questions to deputy court executive administrator Jerome Mark as he listened to staff concerns.
The Judiciary in a statement yesterday assured staff and customers of the Family Court that it would continue to intensify its efforts with relevant government agencies to resolve the issues which triggered the demonstration by staff outside their work place yesterday morning. The issues include the protracted period for the determination of outstanding terms and conditions, the protracted period for outstanding gratuity payments and the strain placed on existing staff because of pending Cabinet approval for the engagement of additional staff for the court. Chief Justice Ivor Archie and court executive administrator Michelle Austin have expressed their appreciation to the staff for their tolerance to this point but seek a bit more of their patience as the Judiciary‘s administration engages the relevant departments of government for an effective resolution to all of the issues raised during yesterday’s demonstration. The Judiciary apologised to any of its customers who were inconvenienced by the demonstration.