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Led by president of the Public Service Association, Watson Duke, more than 100 staff at the Public Service Transport Corporation (PTSC) and Ministry of Food Production, San Fernando, walked off the job yesterday, citing major health and safety violations. Duke met with the workers at the 103-year-old PTSC hub, which was a railway station during colonial times. Saying it was “satanic” that government was forcing workers to “operate like dogs,” Duke called on the OSH Authority to provide a certificate of compliance for the historic building.
OSHA, he declared, was “being controlled like a puppet on a string by the Labour Minister.” He demanded other proof that the building was safe for use. “We must also have a fire certificate. Indoor air quality tests must be done. We want a structural engineer’s report as well as a Town and Country report on this building,” he added. Duke said a health surveillance book was also needed in which all accidents and injuries must be documented.
During the tour, mice were seen scurrying around in the stockroom while the stench of urine and faeces pervaded the staircase under which homeless people slept. The security guards in the foyer had an uncased fluorescent light dangling over their heads, while septic water seeped through a crack on the floor of the Information department of PTSC. The walls were swollen with moisture and bins were being used to catch water from the leaking roof.
He also showed exposed electrical circuit boards and poor lighting in various departments. One staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they had to bring drapes from home to keep out the glare because the broken blinds were never replaced. Several members of staff said they had breathing problems because of the poor air quality.
“The vents have not been cleaned and you can see how black it is,” another pointed out. A senior official said within the past few years, four employees had died of cancer during their tenure.
Duke told the staff it was their right to refuse to do work if the conditions were hazardous to their health.
“Paint, carpet and big tiles cannot fool us. They cannot renovate with you in the same building. They have to relocate you. Do not let them treat you like dogs. Even animals have rights,” Duke told the workers.
Saying the Government will never be able to control “the Duke of Abercromby,” the trade union leader said he planned to visit 460 public buildings to enforce the OSH Act. “I will be here next Tuesday to meet with you. If you choose to stay and work in these conditions, then don’t expect me to come back. Don’t call me when you get cancer,” Duke said. He then asked the staff whether they were prepared to sign and leave.
He also said the workers of the OSH Authority were on contract so it was easy for them to be controlled by McLeod and called on Government to give OSHA real independence by providing proper salaries and permanent positions for OSHA staff.
The walkout affected the bus service as well as renewals of fishing permits and processing of salaries.
Contacted yesterday, Minister of Labour Errol McLeod declined to comment on the accusations over OSH, except to say: “I dismiss most things that Duke says with the utmost contempt.” He refused further comment.
Late yesterday, PTSC officials issued a public advisory that there would be delays in the bus service in both cities because of the walkout. The PTSC said “it will work expeditiously in the next few hours to normalise service.”