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Government gets court injunction to block PSA from taking further industrial action at Immigration Division

Friday, July 4, 2014
A policeman gives way to a woman carrying a baby to get early access to the Immigration Division on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, as workers returned to duty yesterday. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE

In a last minute bid to avert a possible national crisis, attorneys representing Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod went to Industrial Court late yesterday and got an injunction preventing further industrial action by the Public Services Association-led Immigration Division.  After hearing submissions, which lasted several hours, the ex-parte injunction, done in the absence of attorneys for the PSA, was granted by a five-member panel of judges. It effectively ended over seven weeks of protest from the union, which virtually crippled operations at all Immigration Department offices since it was first initiated by PSA president Watson Duke on May 14. 


The four-page court order, obtained by the T&T Guardian, stated: “The public officers are hereby restrainted from taking and/or continuing to take such industrial action within the meaning and provisions of the Industrial Relations Act until further order.”  The panel comprised Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix and judges Lawrence Achong, Albert Aberdeen, Kyril Jack and Kathleen George-Marcelle. In an affidavit filed in the case, Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes detailed a timeline for the protest action, which was started over health and safety conditions. He said workers initially started working until midday at the department’s headquarters Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain. Later they “reported for work by merely signing the attendance register and leaving the office shortly after,” Downes said. 


Last Thursday, the protest spread to the San Fernando office after Duke and the staff complained of safety concerns with the electricity supply. Downes said the following day his organisation’s offices at Henry Street were hit by a shutdown after a fire alarm went off while members of staff were cooking in a kitchen. He noted that although the Fire Services cleared the building shortly after arriving there, Duke still advised staff not to occupy the building. He said despite efforts by management to alleviate the staff’s concerns the protest had continued. “I firmly believe that there is no liklihood of any return to normalcy and unless the injunction is granted the public would continue to experience great hardship and the national interest continues to be put at risk or jeopardised,” Downes said. 


Numerous public complaints

Mc Leod, in a secondary affidavits, said it was clear to him that the PSA and its members in the department had embarked on a deliberate course to compel the government to agree to their demands on terms and conditions of employment, without having regard to the consequences it would have on citizens. The minister said he decided to seek the injunction after receiving complaints from numerous MPs and government ministers, including National Security Minister Gary Griffith, under whose purview the department fell. 


Mc Leod also said he personally received complaints from members of the public who claimed to have suffered financial, personal and other hardships from their inability to obtain or renew passports during the seven-week protest period. “The situation is exacerbated by the fact that some of these persons have already made travel arrangements for which they have paid and have now found themselves in a position where they are unable to travel because of their inability to obtain a passport,” McLeod said.


The decision came at the end of a day where scores of people once again lined up outside the Port-of-Spain and San Fernando immigration offices hoping to get or renew passports. The ministry was represented by Senior Counsel Russel Martineau and attorneys Addison Khan and Derek Ali.


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