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Duke to Judiciary: Back-to-work notices illegal

Court workers defy order
Published: 
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Public Service Association (PSA) president Watson Duke disposes of warning letters sent to workers of the San Fernando Magistrates Court directing them to return to work yesterday. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

Staff at the San Fernando Magistrates Court yesterday defied the Judiciary’s order to return to work as Public Service Association (PSA) president Watson Duke tore up the notices sent to employees, labelling them illegal. Duke, who led the staff in a walkout on August 5 over health and safety concerns, told the media the PSA was issuing a promisory note to the Judiciary to “get their house in order.”

He said: “They are trying to inflict guilt upon these workers. When they (Judiciary) have not complied with the law they have violated these persons health, safety and welfare.” Duke said daily newspapers had “misquoted” the release sent by the Judiciary on Monday though, he said, the notice served as a veiled threat. The release said: “Today all members of staff who have been away from their assigned stations were instructed to return to work to ensure the delivery of regular services to our customers.”

However, Duke said: “They never gave any order. All they said is that the employees are protesting and that they are violating Section 16 of the act. “That is not true, by their own admission. They said the employees wrote to them and stated they are refusing to work under Section 15 and gave valid reasons.” Despite that, Duke challenged the Judiciary.

He said: “Do what you want. You make the law but this morning I am giving you a promisory note, before this week ends we will be dealing with different magistrates courts across the country. “We know our rights. They are written and we can read, so don’t come with this foolishness to try and make us believe we have done something wrong.” He called on the Judiciary to stop trying to intimidate workers and present the necessary documents from the Fire Services and Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Authority. 

“Be true to what you state on paper and stop these illegal acts. Where is the fire certificate? That is a criminal offence. Where are the indoor air-quality tests?” he asked. Section 26 of the OSH Act says it is a crime to have more than 20 employees working in a building without a fire certificate. Contrary to the release, Duke said, the employees wrote to the Judiciary outlining their concerns.

“They gave valid reasons. There is no fire certificate, questionable indoor air quality, no Town and Country (Planning) approval and an unstable electrical supply.” When asked who wrote the notice that he tore up, Duke said: “This came from a circus clown in the Judiciary who is performing and grand-charging, trying to intimidate people.”

Protest continues in south
PSA president Watson Duke says he intends to “flatten” government offices in south Trinidad until the needs of workers are met in the proper way. “When we done with South, South will be flat,” said Duke. “Let them understand we have the right to a good office, just like them.” So far, Duke said, the PSA had led staff walkouts in four locations. He added: “The social welfare office is locked, the Food Production (Ministry) office is locked. 

“The Public Service Transport Corporation (PTSC) monthly paid workers and the human resources department at the regional health authority are all staying away from their jobs.”