CARIRI workers stage protest
Friday, October 19 2012
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PROTEST MARCH: Workers from the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI), protested yesterday outside the institute's office at the University...
SCORES of workers from the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) yesterday staged a protest over poor working conditions at their offices at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus.
The workers marched around the building calling on Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie to immediately address the matter of the unsafe and unhealthy environment they are forced to work in. Tewarie is the minister charged with responsibility for Cariri.
Among concerns listed by the workers are poor indoor air quality, exposure to dangerous gases and vapours, work areas high in carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, an inefficient air conditioning system and mould growing in different parts of the building.
The workers noted the growth of fungus on the building, which they believe is causing some of them to have an allergic skin reaction. The fungus, they say, is being caused by two mushroom houses on top of the building, part of a project undertaken by the research institute.
In recent times, Cariri has been charged with the responsibility of testing incidents of fungus at the Palo Seco Secondary and the St Augustine Secondary schools. Workers yesterday called on Tewarie to intervene in the matter of delays in their salary negotiations.
“Our entire work building has been deemed unfit for work and we have informed the OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) authorities and management. Management has so far claimed they cannot meet with us until sometime in November. This is why we are protesting because we want the public to know what is going on,” said Gerald Herreira, Senior Technician in the Industrial Material Unit and Branch President of the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU)
Herreira noted the irony of Cariri workers having to do tests for fungus growth in schools yet being unable to have their own health problem dealt with. “It’s funny how we can fix the problems of others but can’t fix our own problems,” Herreira said.
Herreira said health-related issues have been plaguing the institution for years. He said many workers have suffered with health issues over time and that one major health concern at CARIRI was the fact that four workers were diagnosed with different types of cancer.
One of cancer victims has since died and two others, interviewed by Newsday yesterday, said they believe poor work conditions at CARIRI were the cause of their cancer. They did note, however, that there was no tangible proof to support this belief.
The first person to be diagnosed with cancer at CARIRI, died around 1987. The other three workers were diagnosed in 2005, 2007 and 2008. Herreira claimed that management was not putting proper measures in place for workers to safely handle various chemicals.
The workers are also calling on Tewarie to intervene in the matter of salary negotiations which have been ongoing since 2007. “Our negotiations have stalled in the court and we are not getting any information right now,” said Herreira.
“We are being asked to work in hazardous conditions with a three percent salary increase offer. We see our other brothers and sisters elsewhere getting nine percent and all they can offer is three percent?” he asked. Herreira said that if the management cannot deal with the workers’ issues, they should be removed from their positions.