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Duke on passport backlog: Workers will now work extra hours
Immigration staff has been asked to put in extra hours to deal with the backlog of cases which resulted from the shutdown of the San Fernando and Port-of-Spain immigration offices, says Watson Duke, president of the Public Service Association (PSA). He was speaking yesterday after a Pension Fund Plan presentation ceremony, hosted by the HDC, at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain. It included members from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), PSA and National Union for Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW).
Duke added: “I have met with the workers today and I have asked them to commit to some hours of work so we will ensure that those persons who have to travel because of emergency and, perhaps, leisure would have some level of satisfaction and comfort in so doing.” Dr Roodal Moonilal, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, said the Government and PSA had come to a resolution although it had taken some time.
He said: “We are happy that the matters have been resolved. We have spoken to Mr Duke so he will speak to his workers to try to see if we can get some extra hours in to deal with the backlog that presented itself.” Saying operations were back to normal at the passport offices, Duke said: “It was never about shutting down a country or mashing up a country to prove power. It was always about to get the attention of those in office and those who are responsible for improving our conditions of service and other benefits.”
Asked if he thought the PSA acted irresponsibly in shutting down the passport offices, Duke said: “We did not. When you are trying to get the attention of someone you will use different intensities of your voice.” Asked to comment on the case where a sick person was unable to travel abroad for treatment due to the shutdown, he said: “Well, there are persons who are dying right now in the immigration office. I could tell you that. They are sick.”
Asked what the people were dying from, he said: “I don’t want to give you that here. Should I give you that here? Be reasonable... certainly there are persons who are sick because of the building.” Moonilal said the Government would continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure there was no further inconvenience to the public and proper health and safety conditions were provided for all public servants.
Last Friday workers at the San Fernando and Port-of-Spain immigration offices walked off the job leaving several citizens stranded without passports. Duke reportedly said both offices had electrical problems and were unsafe for workers. In a release on Tuesday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith described the action by the PSA as “unjust, inhumane and illegal.” He described the action as reckless and called on the PSA to adopt responsible, reasonable and legal industrial relations practices.
The industrial action was part of a series of protests against poor health and safety working conditions in the public service, including the Immigration Division. Duke had threatened to shutdown all passport offices unless the Government intervened.