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Court hears in contempt motion: Poor air quality at passport office

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Carbon dioxide levels at the ground floor of the passport office in Port-of-Spain were recorded at above international standards and have been blamed for irritation to the eyes, skin and flu-like symptoms. This was one of the findings in a report in May by the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (Cariri) on the Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, building. 



Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes was questioned yesterday about the findings of the report as the hearing of a contempt motion against Public Services Association Watson Duke and immigration officer Purdy Babwah continued at the Industrial Court, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain. Duke’s lead attorney, Douglas Mendes, SC, said the findings of the report had the potential to reduce productivity and cause absenteeism in staff. 



When asked if he felt his staff’s concerns over their health and safety were unfounded or unreasonable, Downes said no. He claimed the department had already begun remedial work on the building and most of the issues identified by staff and Operational Health and Safety inspectors already had been completed.



As he quizzed Downes on what steps were taken to rectify the situation, Mendes pointed to similar findings in an air-quality testing report prepared for another of the department’s offices in Port-of-Spain, which was closed earlier this year. In response, Senior Counsel Russell Martineau, who is representing the Ministry of Labour, took issue with Mendes’ analysis, saying the air quality testing was only one factor in the report, in which the building was given mostly favourable grades. 


He also noted that the high levels of carbon dioxide were only found in three sections of the ground floor of the five-storey building. In ending his questioning, Mendes also sought to poke holes in the State’s claim that Duke and the union breached the injunction by inciting the staff to walk off the job. When asked if he heard Duke encouraging workers to leave the building, Downes admitted he did not have any evidence to support that. 


“I was in the building but not where it was taking place,” Downes said. Downes is expected to be re-examined by Martineau when the case resumes this morning. 


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