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PoS passport office closed for renovations
The Industrial Court at St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, was the centre of attention yesterday, as Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke and immigration officer Purdy Babwah appeared before the court for allegedly breaching an injunction stopping immigration staff from taking industrial action.
Immigration officers, PSA members and other trade unions gathered shortly after 10 am outside the court, where they remained until the end of the hearing, which took about five hours. Heckling from passers-by, who shouted, “Jail for Duke,” didn’t stop the workers from chanting their union songs. Meanwhile, the Port-of-Spain passport office was closed at 12 pm yesterday for renovation works to go ahead. Staff said the office was expected to reopen on Monday.
Chief education officer of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) Ozzie Warwick said his union was there in solidarity with the PSA and immigration workers. “We believe that no employer, no employer whatsoever, in particular the State, should be able to take out an injunction against workers who are exercising their right,” he said. “Workers have a right to remove themselves from conditions that are unsafe. As a matter of fact, OWTU fought for that right—Section 15 of the OSH Act.”
Less than a month ago, during and after Labour Day celebrations, leaders of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) described Duke as a traitor and an agent of the Government, after the PSA pulled out of labour celebrations at the last minute. Asked if the rift between the PSA and JTUM had affected the OWTU’s position in the matter, Warwick said, “Workers’ issues come first. Regardless of that history, the bottom line is those workers took legitimate action and as the OWTU, we support, endorse and are in solidarity with them.”
BIGWU head backs PSA too
Vincent Cabrera, president of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) and a member of JTUM, in a telephone interview, said he too supported the workers, adding they were not responsible for the public’s suffering. He said: “The society has fallen into a habit (where) when workers take action, the society blames the workers instead of the employer. In this case the blame lies squarely at the feet of the employer.
“The OSH Act was passed since 2004 and the present Government has been in office for four years, so they have no excuse for not having proper conditions for employees.” He said the Government was also trying to shift the focus from the workers and their problems to Duke. “There’s a tendency for employers to personalise issues and in this case they’re saying Duke did this and that. “But it’s not Duke. Duke is the president of an association that represents workers.”
Cabrera added: “The Government was unnecessarily confrontational and instead of dealing with the issues they’re dealing with the symptoms.” Emmanuel Henry, second vice president of the Estate Police Association, agreed Government was trying to dodge the real issue.
Speaking outside the Industrial Court, he said, “The Government is trying to sidestep the real issue, which is the health of the workers. They must correct the problems in these buildings, first where the immigration officers continue to work, and all the other buildings that are unsafe and unhealthy for the workers to occupy.” Saying his association was in solidarity with the PSA, he added, “If workers and the unions stand in support of the workers, no injunction could stand or hold against the workers.”
Former NUGFW leader: PSA misguided
But a former head of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers’ Union (NUGFW), Robert Giuseppi, said the PSA could have handled the conflict better. He said, “I thought that the union, at this point in time, the tactics could have been conducted in a way to make achievements. “We know that health and safety is a very important issue and they have a right to be heavily concerned, but everything has a process and I think that’s where they (PSA) lapsed.
“I saw biting statements on the side of my comrades engendering more action to be taken and that was a sort of slip-up.” He added: “An injunction is an injunction, no matter what you say the OSH Act says and Industrial Relations (Act) says. A superior court gave you an injunction. He (Duke) should have challenged it in the proper way instead of calling media conferences.”