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Tax workers walk off jobs
Scores of Finance Ministry staff walked off their jobs yesterday morning in protest over health and safety conditions at four of the ministry’s offices in downtown Port-of-Spain. The action took place around 11 am after members of the Public Service Association (PSA), led by its president Watson Duke, toured the buildings and told staff at the Board of Inland Revenue to leave.
The offices include Trinidad House and the Valued Added Tax (VAT) office, both on St Vincent Street; Victoria Court on Queen Street and the District Revenue Office for St George West, on Independence Square. In a phone interview yesterday Duke claimed he had witnessed several health and safety violations during his tour of the buildings, leading him to sanction the walkout under Section 15 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
“The employees have reasonable belief that the buildings are sick. The vents are covered with fungus, some parts of the carpet has been removed and the remaining carpet is dusty,” Duke said, describing the conditions at the VAT office. He said his team also found several fire hazards in the buildings, including corridors being blocked with filing cabinets and a lack of evacuation plans. He also said several employees had complained to the PSA about feeling unwell while working in the buildings.
“Over the past two years, four people who work in these buildings died. We are concerned that there may be a correlation between these deaths and the exposure to the buildings,” Duke said. He said he met with the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance Vishnu Dhanpaul yesterday afternoon and Dhanpaul agreed to address the issues.
Employees at the VAT office are scheduled to be relocated to an empty space on the second floor of the Eric Williams Financial Complex within the next couple of weeks, he said, but the PSA also had some issues with the new space. “While it is spacious, the furniture is not OSHA-compliant,” Duke said. He also said the concerns of the workers at the other three buildings still had to be addressed and he had invited Dhanpaul to meet with them to address their concerns at 8 am today outside Trinidad House.
“We hope we are able to resolve the issues in a peaceful manner,” he said. Contacted yesterday afternoon, the ministry’s communications specialist Dominic Hinds said he could not immediately comment on the walkout as he was in the process of preparing an official response. No response had been received by the T&T Guardian up to late yesterday.