By SEAN DOUGLAS Tuesday, July 8 2014
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DEFIANT: PSA president Watson Duke walks with PSA members to a press conference yesterday at PSA headquarters in Port-of-Spain after both the San Fern...
PUBLIC Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke yesterday defied an Industrial Court injunction against protest action, ordering staff to stay away from the Immigration offices in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando much to the anger and frustration of affected members of the public.
Duke, who came in for some flak from irate persons outside the PoS Immigration office, yesterday insisted he did not contravene the court order saying that the office was closed on health and safety grounds.
At a new conference, Duke said the Immigration staff absence from the allegedly unsafe office conditions was a completely separate issue to the Industrial Court’s award last Thursday of an injunction against industrial action.
He said the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) allows staff absences from an unsafe building adding that the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act prohibits an employer punishing such absenteeism.
Irate at not getting their passports during an off-on series of closures since May 14, several members of the public who met an Immigration office devoid of any staff member, jeered Duke outside the Frederick Street office.
Citizens voiced their frustration yesterday after journeying to Port-of-Spain and/or San Fernando only to meet both offices in north and south devoid of staff. In addition to wasted travel money and time, citizens were annoyed they now have to pay additional costs to change the scheduling of their flights.
Annette Modeste, seeking a form for her disabled husband, told Newsday, This is the third time she has been coming to the office and is yet to be helped. Lennie Brewster, a bandleader needing a passport to go to England for work, said, “It has been two months now I coming for my passport.” There were similar tales of woe at the San Fernando Immigration office. Police officers said the office would be open today, but only for passport collection.
Duke said yesterday’s shutdown of the Immigration Division office on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, was done to protect workers under the OSH Act and does not constitute “any industrial action”, prohibited by last week’s court injunction granted to Labour Minister Errol McLeod. Duke denied committing any contempt of court. Loudly pounding his table to make each point, during the press conference at PSA headquarters on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain a defiant, animated Duke said the IRA defines “industrial action” in a way that excludes a refusal to work because of unusual circumstances that are hazardous or injurious to health.
He said his workers signed their workplace registry “OSHA 15” to indicate their reason for absence. The OSH Act, he said, bans an employer from firing an employee for absence due to unsafe conditions.
“We’ll observe (obey) the injunction to a “t”, but health and safety is our right!” Duke cited what he called evidence that the Immigration building was a risk under OSHA law. He said that last Friday a “huge sheet of glass” came crashing down in the car-park narrowly avoiding an employee who was in his car. He said TTEC foreman Ken Mackie was burnt when someone tried to extinguish a fire with an extinguisher that was non-functional. Duke spoke of several incidence of outbreaks of rashes and other skin disorders among Immigration staffers.
Asked if he could offer any comfort to the travelling public, Duke replied that is the job of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and not him as a union leader.