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No pay for absent south court workers

By AZARD ALI Thursday, August 21 2014

THE judiciary has responded swiftly to San Fernando Magistrates’ Court employees refusal to obey Monday’s instruction to return to their jobs yesterday, with letters informing them they will not be paid salaries.

The 18 employees were given letters yesterday informing them they would not be paid from August 5, because they stayed away from their jobs without leave. The employees, 16 of them women, have boycotted the court since that day, contending that the court building is unfit for occupation.

The employees, led by Public Services Association (PSA’s) president Waston Duke, walked out of the courthouse building on August 5, citing hot courtrooms without air condition, asbestos ceiling breaking off, and a leaking roof which is partially covered by tarpaulin.

The Magistrates’ Court has been hard-hit this week due to the boycott, with two note-takers doing the job of four. Since last week Friday, Magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds has been taking her own notes while presiding. In one courtroom on a day this week, a clerk took notes in 105 cases, without a lunch break.

On Monday, the judiciary, through Industrial Relations Officer Shantie Bhimull, instructed the employees, via letters addressed to each, to return to their respective work stations.

Since the first day of the walkout, the employees have been signing the register and leaving. On Tuesday, Duke tore up one of the letters and deposited it in a bin after telling the employees that it was their constitutional right to refuse to work in an unsafe environment.

Yesterday, however, two employees broke the picket line and returned to work. The other employees signed the register but their mood was very sombre when they walked out the courthouse with the letters. Signed by Bhimull for Michelle Austin, who is the Court Executive Administrator, the letter informed the employees that their absence from their jobs would be treated as having been absent without leave.

Following the August 5 walkout, Duke had all the employees sign applications for a certificate of fitness from the Fire Services, and certification from the Occupational Safety and Health Agency on the basis that the building is dilapidated.

Bhimull’s letter informed each employee that the judiciary notes that they continue to engage in protest action by failure to present “yourself for assigned duties at the court, since August 5.”

The letter draws the employees’ attention to its correspondence to the PSA informing that an indoor quality test had been conducted by the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute. Bhimull’s letter added, “The indoor quality test conducted at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court shows there is no risk to your health or life at the workplace.”

The letter continues, “Your failure to perform your assigned duties without any lawful or reasonable excuse continues to have a negative impact on the functions of the court. Please be advised that your absence will be treated without leave, and as a result no payment of salary will be made in respect of your absence from August 5, 2014.”

Duke told the Newsday yesterday that he met with members of the judiciary yesterday on the matter, and he remains adamant that the employees must not return to their respective jobs until the OSH Agency had replied to their applications. Duke will address the employees this morning on the issue.

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