“Why isn’t mummy here?”
This is a question that often comes from the tiny lips of four-year-old Danielle Ramsoomair.
An ailing man was on the brink of tears yesterday while waiting for his welfare cheque, as Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke advised Social Development workers to walk off the job. Duke, who yesterday continued his tour of public service offices in San Fernando, advised the workers to sign their work register on Monday and sign back out immediately if they did not feel comfortable with their working conditions.
The customer, who did not give his name, said since last week he had been to the Independence Avenue, San Fernando office twice in an effort to get his cheque. “I just came from the hospital. I am an asthma patient. I came to get my cheque and what going on?” he said as his voice broke with emotion. “I feel really terrible about this,” the man said, as Duke met with staff and advised them not to accept their current unsafe working conditions.
The man’s comments were echoed by an elderly woman who said she was from Marabella. She said she had been waiting all morning to have her welfare cheque reviewed and then Duke arrived and called the workers to a meeting. “I find it rather bad. They should attend to the others before this,” she said. The Guardian understands that the Social Development office has been closing for the past couple of months at 11 am every day.
Duke was asked by reporters at the San Fernando office about the suffering and stress caused to the public by his action. He said, “I sympathise with the people. The PSA will do everything in its power so that they are served. However, what we will not do is to compromise the health and the welfare of our members at their expense. It is the state’s responsibility.”
Yesterday’s visit follows Duke’s tour, on Thursday, of the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) and Food Production ministry offices at the San Fernando Wharf where workers walked off the job. They complained of major health and safety violations at the aging building. Duke said the PSA had initiated a “zero tolerance” drive and would be initiating legal action next week to bring the State to account for the poor working conditions public servants were forced to work under.
He said he had advised workers at the Social Development office that if they went to work on Monday and they did not see an office that was totally compliant with the health and safety regulations then they “have no right to work in squalor and compromising situations and the PSA will support them if they sign out immediately after signing in.” “Under that law the employer has a duty, which is to ensure that all employees are provided with a safe environment, a healthy working environment and one that protects their welfare,” he said.
He questioned whether there were fire certificates, air quality monitoring and a health surveillance reporting book for employee concerns to be recorded. He said the staff had to share the same washrooms with the public at the office as well. “We are saying it is wrong for the members of society to access service in a dilapidated place like this and it is wrong to serve them in an environment like this. We demand better,” Duke said. He said he would be embarking on more tours of public offices.
Duke also returned to the PTSC and Food Production ministry office yesterday. He said the workers “still feel unsafe, that their health and their well-being is being diminished and compromised by working under those existing conditions.” The workers, he said, refused to work. Yesterday, buses operated as usual in San Fernando and there were no stranded passengers at the terminal.