|McLeod: Immigration shutdown illegal |
By JULIEN NEAVES Friday, July 4 2014
AS immigration employees returned to work yesterday on a half-day basis Labour Minister Errol McLeod described the previous shutdown of operations as “illegal” and also filed an injunction against Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke and the union.
McLeod was asked about the industrial action at the Immigration Offices at Port-of-Spain and San Fernando yesterday during the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair. He was also questioned by reported sick out action by Caribbean Airlines pilots which led to the cancellation of more than 40 flights on Tuesday.
McLeod told the media Government is concerned about any unsettled area in the country’s operations and development.
He noted the two situations are being addressed by their appropriate managements.
“And the Minister of Labour stands ready on the invitation of any of them or all of them to lend whatever services that will come under this portfolio,” he said. “I will advise only that unions and their memberships pay attention to the provisions of the law.”
He reported that he has been having discussions with Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on the immigration issue.
Questioned whether the action taken by the union was legal or not McLeod responded, “the Industrial Relations Act identifies particular operations in the national economy as being (an) essential service and essential industries. Generally there is a procedure that ought to be followed in the case of collective bargaining and in the case of the observation of proper occupational health and safety procedures”.
He continued: “Action that is taken outside of these procedures would be identified as illegal action.”
Pressed on the issue he said, “I can’t be satisfied that they have taken action contrary to the procedures that I just identified. It is illegal.”
He pointed out that the immigration matter did not have to do with collective agreement negotiations but unsafe working conditions.
“These conditions have been examined and I am sure where unsafe conditions were found remedial action has been taken,” he said.
He reiterated that he is expecting the management in areas where disruptions have been taking place to address the situation and advised all concerned to take note of what applies in law.
Questioned about his possible intervention in the situation McLeod replied that he cannot project whether the country will be held to ransom or not, but noted that in the practice of industrial relations it is the management or the employer or the workers and their organisation “who will determine the consequences of action that is taken by either party.” He stressed that the Labour Minister only intervenes on the invitation of parties if a dispute exists.
At about 4 pm the Labour Ministry filed an injunction against Duke and the union over the industrial action. When contacted yesterday via telephone Duke said he had not been served with the injunction. He added that he was in a meeting and would not be able to speak any further.
On Wednesday he told the media that any legal action against him or the union would mean early general elections. McLeod was asked about this threat at the media briefing yesterday and in response he reiterated that he would be guided by what is in the law.
“And any irresponsible statements such as you reported there will hardly receive any more than passing notice by this Minister of Labour,” he said.
Duke and the PSA were scheduled to meet with Government representatives today to sign an agreement for the Immigration Division office in Port-of-Spain to be relocated from Frederick Street to the Government Campus Plaza on Wrightson Road.
At the Port-of-Spain office yesterday there were long lines as citizens arrived to collect their passports. Only those with their passport receipts were being allowed into the building. Despite the half day announcement an officer locked off entry at 10.42 am. A woman waiting to go inside and collect her passport told Newsday she did not agree with the shutdown by the workers.
“I believe they should not have closed down completely. Even if they working half day they should have never stopped working. They could have at least continued to work for half the day because it would have been more productive than shutting down completely,” she said.
“Since April 1 I applied and we now in July,” she said.
The woman noted she is travelling soon and hopes her passport will be fast-tracked.
In San Fernando, the immigration office on Knox Street opened until noon.
A businessman related that he had an appointment to receive his passport since May 22 in order to travel to the United States for work. He lamented he missed his trip and work opportunity. San Fernando resident Jenneive Duff said she and her family had “visa appointments” which they could not make because they did not get their passports and “so we lost that money and have to start over the entire process.”
A policewoman complained she had an appointment for her eight-year-old daughter during the period the office was closed. She said she was told yesterday they will be given another appointment date. The officer had planned to travel next week.
There were similar scenes at the Chaguanas immigration offices with a slow but steady trickle of persons arriving to collect passports.