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No work, no pay—lawyer

As workers seek salary after protest action...
Thursday, August 14, 2014

A group of public servants has petitioned the High Court to overturn a decision to withhold their salaries over their refusal to work for the past month due to health and safety conditions in their workplace. During an emergency sitting at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, High Court Judge Nadia Kangaloo heard submissions from attorneys representing the 33 employees of the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Committee, who are seeking an injunction against their employer’s refusal to pay them their salary for last month. 

Their lawyer, Rajiv Persad, told the court the decision had placed his clients in financial hardship with many unable to pay their loans, mortgages and other financial commitments. “Their inability to get their salaries for one month has far-reaching consequences on their livelihood,” Persad said. 

He claimed his clients had been protesting over poor health and safety conditions at the committee’s office, corner of Dove and Balisier Avenues, Couva, for sometime and their recent decision to refuse to work was permitted under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The staff claims that the building, a converted residential property, does not have Town and Country planning permission or inspection certificates from the Fire Services or Electrical Inspectorate. 

They are also alleging that the building does not receive a regular water supply and is infested by mould. In response the committee’s lawyer, Russell Martineau, SC, disputed their allegations of serious and imminent danger at the building and questioned the timing of their decision, which he claimed was prompted by Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke. “What is interesting in this case is that there are other people who are still working in the building,” Martineau said. 

He also submitted the injunction would affect his client’s significantly as it would be forced to pay the workers although its operations had been halted by the workers’ actions. “You have not worked to earn the money, so no pay. That is your risk,” Martineau said. He also opposed the group’s bid to have photographs and evidence of the health and safety issues entered into evidence before the court as he claimed that the workers had not filed a substantive lawsuit.