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NIB, Tobago staff won’t work

Tuesday, April 29 2014

Thousands of National Insurance Board (NIB) customers will be affected due to the closure of one of its offices on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain.

And the services of the Division of Health and Social Services and the Agriculture Food Processing Unit in Scarborough, Tobago are to be affected by the work stoppage of the staff.

These are the latest public offices to be shut down by the Public Services Association (PSA) over health and staff concerns for workers.

NIB staff members were called on yesterday by PSA president Watson Duke to vacate the premises in Port-of-Spain due to unsafe conditions. “We are taking a very firm position to close the doors to the public, we are saying no to unsafe conditions, no to unhealthy conditions, and no to conditions that compromises our welfare,” Duke said.

He said for far too long the Ministry of Finance has been earning billions of dollars per year, and has not sought to re-inject some of that money into its infrastructures and offices that serve the public.

“The same problem we are having with Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) and the Treasury, it is the same problem we are having with NIB today. The workers are abandoned and are forced to work in squalor. There is not a valid fire extinguisher in the building, all of them are outdated by three to four years,” Duke said.

He noted when something as basic as a fire extinguisher is not valid in a building, it means the health and safety of workers have reached rock bottom.

Duke said they tested the emergency exit yesterday morning, and observed the exit upstairs, is not hooked up to the one downstairs and there was no internal wiring.

“If the alarm goes off upstairs it does not trouble downstairs. The emergency exit door marks push and the door is deadlocked, including the one at the back of the building,” Duke said.

“There can be no service to the public if we as government workers are not given the wherewithal to carry out a decent job.”

Duke informed the media that the entire upstairs is being tiled, while workers continue to perform their duty, with only a barrier made from garbage bags to seal off the area.

The staff members gathered outside the office yesterday and was told by Duke that there will be “no hours, no half-days, or any day” until the problems were fixed.

He is calling on a CARIRI report on the air quality, an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Authority) report on the health and safety, a Fire Service certificate and structural engineer evaluation of the building.

Later, the PSA issued a release advising that 50 employees were affected by smoke from a fire that ignited after a computer “exploded” due to an electrical problem at the Division of Health and Social Services and the Agriculture Food Processing Unit at Glen Road, Scarborough, Tobago yesterday.

The PSA said it conducted a risk analysis and found; no fire alarms installed in the building; the main entrance was the emergency exit and there was no alternative; there was no evacuation plan; no fire extinguishers/alternative for fighting fires; electrical circuits were overloaded; no health and safety committee to carry out risk assessment, health and safety audits, health surveillance and to respond to employees OSH concerns.

The PSA advised workers of this Tobago office will refuse to work until the Division submits a OSHA report, Cariri air quality test, fire certificate and electrical certificate from the Electrical Inspectorate.

In response, the NIB management and board of directors said they shared the PSA’s concerns about the health, safety and comfort of its employees and customers.

It said last year it completed its Strategic Plan Vision 2016 which includes plans to refurbish its offices and facilities in phases.

Last year, seven offices were relocated including the Chaguanas and St James service centres. In December 2013, phase two of the refurbishment plan was initiated with the upgrades of six offices – Arima, Tunapuna, Barataria, Chaguanas, Abercromby Street and the Head Office and the relocation of our Rio Claro and Tobago service centres.

“Major refurbishment work is currently underway at Arima and Abercromby Street. The Arima service centre is now closed to the public and customers have been encouraged to make use of any other of our service centres. At the Abercromby Street location, however, it was determined that the work could proceed after working hours and on weekends without causing major disruption to the staff and public. However, in light of today’s action, the centre will remain closed pending further investigations,” said the NIB.

NIB said it will invite the Chief Inspector of OSHA to tour the facility and make a determination about whether the conditions are fit for staff and customers.

The company said it planned a meeting with the PSA for yesterday, but was rescheduled to next week, and urged the union “ to meet and dialogue with us in the coming days given the urgency of the matter.”

In the case of Tobago, Newsday was unsuccessful in contacting officials of the Division of Health and Social Services.

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