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Shutdown of govt offices hurting citizens

Sunday, June 29, 2014
Members of the public read the notice of closure at the Ministry of National Security Immigration Division one day after Public Service Association president Watson Duke shut down the office after claiming a breach in the OSH act last month. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

“What right does he have shutting down the country?” Dennisia Hull asked on Friday as she, along with approximately 14 others, stood in front of the Immigration Office, 67 Frederick Street, hoping to receive long-awaited passports and other documentation. Several people, some of whom had come from as far as Mayaro for renewed passports, were turned back on Friday as offices remained closed because of health and safety issues.



According to a May 12 news report, Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke had said two government offices would be closed per week if there was no “meaningful consultation” on health and safety issues. He was reported to have said that approximately 5,000 employees were being affected by health and safety issues and half of them had “serious” health concerns. 


The Immigration Office, along with other government offices such as the Board of Inland Revenue-Collection Division, Queen Street, have not been fully functional for some time because of health and safety concerns, Duke said. On Friday some of the customers standing in front of the building claimed that workers, despite the “Closed Until Further Notice” sign stuck on the door, were giving preferential treatment to some people who were allowed to collect passports while others were denied. 



Owner: Immigration building safe

However, property manager and part owner of the building housing the Immigration office, Alfred Galy, said misinformation was being disseminated regarding the building. “The building suffers no bad air, no electrical problems. There is no elevator problem.” He said the injury to the T&TEC worker at the office on Monday was as a result of T&TEC’s equipment. “The property is absolutely safe. All fire equipment is in place according to OSH requirements. There is no basis for closing down the building,” he said.


Galy said fire authorities had requested that the building’s fire equipment be updated, which was done about two weeks ago. The building’s engineer and managing director, Tamarco Edwards, said fire authorities then inspected the building on June 14 and the building’s management was awaiting an official letter of approval from them by next week. 


Documents provided to the Sunday Guardian by Edwards showed the requirements for the Immigration Building, including the maintenance of a manual/automatic fire alarm/detection system installed in the building; the installation of call points “on the wall no less than 1.1 metres or greater than 1.37 metres from the floor level,” which should be accessible, unobstructed and visible at all times. 


Additional detectors, the requirements said, should also be placed on the fourth floor, first floor, ground floor, and others. Heat detectors, it said, should be placed throughout the car park and the police change room. 



Another document dated June 26 showed duct cleaning and sanitisation work was carried out on the building. It said an indoor air quality test was done on June 10. According to the documents, “...All tests taken show the building is free from Sick Building Syndrome, and guaranteed for one year during normal office use.” The tests were done by Peake Technologies.


A letter dated June 6, referenced “supply and installation of life safety system,” said on the ground, first, second, third and fourth floors of the building, equipment including heat detectors, emergency lights, exit signs, among others, were installed in the building. 


Galy, when asked why the updates were not done previously, said coordination was necessary before the updates could be done. “There is no reason why it was shut down in any event. The basic fire equipment was there but they wanted it updated to meet the OSH requirements and all buildings in town here don’t meet OSH requirements. There was no mishap in this building for the past 25 years,” he said. Calls to PSA president Watson Duke for further discussion on the matter went unanswered. 



Duke: Workers getting sick
In a previous interview with the Sunday Guardian, however, Duke said that workers in government offices like the Inland Revenue—Collection Division and Immigration Office were the victims, since they were going home with “bronchitis and other illnesses.” He said the PSA was working to ensure that such offices were operational again as well as they were holding discussions with the Government to ensure the offices were OSH compliant. 


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