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Duke vows shutdown

By JULIEN NEAVES Monday, May 12 2014

PUBLIC Services Association (PSA) President Watson Duke has cautioned that two Government departments will be closed per week if there is no meaningful consultation on health and safety issues.

Speaking with Newsday yesterday, Duke reported that about 5,000 employees at various departments are being affected by health and safety issues at their respective workplaces and more than 2,500 have come forward with serious health complaints.

These complaints, which employees believe to be linked to their work environment, include growths in pupils, restlessness, runny eyes, serious skin rashes as well as lung and breathing problems.

Duke said management has been taking the issues “for a joke” and claiming there is no correlation between the building and employees’ illnesses.

He reported that a number of Government offices have been closed due to the union’s efforts to improve working conditions for members: Central Statistical Office on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port-of-Spain; Immigration Office and Tenders Board Committee at Moonan Building, Frederick Street; National Insurance Board on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, Arima and Tunapuna (75 percent closed); and Board of Inland Revenue at Independence Avenue, San Fernando; Head Office of Division of Health and Social Services (95 percent closed).

The following departments are on half day work schedules: Ministry of Education head office; Ministry of Education finance and accounts department and pay branch; Licensing Office; Arima Board of Inland Avenue; and Social Services at Independence Avenue, San Fernando.

Also affected by the action are: the Board of Inland Revenue, District Revenue, VAT offices in Port-of-Spain; Ministry of Education, London Street; Ministry of Education Student Support Services on Pembroke Street; Chaguanas Magistrates’ Court; Board of Inland Revenue in Chaguanas; Elections and Boundaries Commission in Chaguanas; and Ministry of Works in Chaguanas.

He said the union has been trying to work with the State in bringing a resolution but the State does not seem to be willing to come to the table with a “serious resolution” and is instead coming with “half picked ducks” and “half baked ideas”. He noted that the union is calling on the State to provide from the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), a statement that there is full compliance with the law, a fire certificate, indoor air quality tests, Town and Country Planning Approval, and a certificate from electrical inspectorate showing that it can handle the electrical demand being placed on the system.

He pointed out that late last month at the Division of Health and Social Services and the Agriculture Food Processing Unit at Glen Road, Scarborough, Tobago, all the computers caught fire like “fire crackers”. He said some of the buildings were 150 years old and all the State was doing was painting them.

He said these problems have existed since he took office in 2009 but promises to move into new buildings were not fulfilled. He noted that now in 2014 they are “looking for real and permanent change”.

Duke called on the State to hold a meeting to settle the issues and noted that, if they do not treat with the issues in a dignified manner, then there is “going to be a war”. He said that as more buildings are shut down it is only the State to blame for not providing adequate facilities for its workers.

“We are not pigs. We have to have a decent place to work,” he stressed.

Labour Minister Errol McLeod yesterday said he was aware of Duke’s engagement through stories read in the press. He said OSHA will be prepared to assist any institution and any organisation on any matters of safety and health and noted that Duke will have to deal with the Chief Personnel Officer.

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