Stand-off over shutdown of T&T Immigration Division deepens
(Trinidad Express) Acting Prime Minister, Minister of Labour and former trade unionist Errol McLeod is seeking to have Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke sent to jail.
LcLeod is pursuing contempt proceedings against Duke and is asking the Industrial Court to have him “committed to prison” for violating the injunction, ordering him not to take industrial action. The industrial action has led to the virtual shut-down of the Immigration Division.
The application, which was filed at 2.20 p.m. yesterday, will be heard at 11 a.m today. If the court does issue a contempt order against Duke, he can be arrested and jailed. The court can also fine him and the PSA.
The shut-down of the passport offices has caused tremendous distress and inconvenience for the public, particularly at a time when vacation travel requires the Immigration Department function at an optimum level.
According to the document filed by the claimant, the Minister of Labour is asking that Duke “be committed to prison for contempt and abetting the breach of the order” of the Industrial Court given on July 3, 2014, “by calling out and/or instructing staff employed at the Immigration Department at Frederick St, Port of Spain, and San Fernando to sign in and leave their jobs without working and by telling them that the office is shut down until whenever.”
McLeod is also asking that Purdy Babwah, a member of the Public Service and a public officer at the Immigration Division, who failed or refused to work on certain days, be committed to prison for breaching and/or disobeying the injunction.
He is asking the court to find the PSA, acting through its president, guilty of contempt of court for breaching the injunction.
This action was agreed to by Cabinet at its meeting yesterday, on the basis of legal advice obtained from the Attorney General. The Cabinet meeting was chaired by McLeod, who is acting Prime Minister.
The virtual shut-down of the Im-
migration Division had been deemed to be in breach of Sections 65 and 69 of the Industrial Relations Act.
However, Duke has continued to defy the order of the court, on the basis the building has failed to satisfy occupational health and safety requirements.
In support of its application, the Labour Minister also filed an affidavit from Gaekwad Ramoutar, Chief Inspector of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), stating there was no imminent threat to life, limb or health.
Ramoutar stated that on Friday, July 4, a planned inspection of the Immigration Division at Frederick St was conducted by health and safety inspectors Dr Rosalie Holder and Mr Mark Gillette.
“The actual safety and health workplace risk at the time of the inspection was not assessed to be unacceptable, based on the findings documented in the inspection record form completed by Dr Holder and Mr Gillette. I (Ramoutar) determined, together with the senior inspector, Mr Colin Gaskin, that the issuing of a prohibition notice on the Immigration Division head officer at #67 Frederick Street was not warranted and no such notice has been issued.”
Ramoutar stated: “I am of the opinion that at No 67 Frederick Street, Port of Spain, there is no serious and imminent danger to persons who may occupy or use the building, nor does there exist any unusual circumstance which has arisen that is hazardous or injurious to any such persons’ life or health”.
He added: “The physical condition of the workplace or any part thereof is not likely to endanger persons who may occupy or use the building, and there are no unusual circumstances which have arisen that are hazardous or injurious to anyone’s health or life”.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Carl A Francis, in an affidavit, also pointed out that on Tuesday, July 7, the line minister for Immigration, Gary Griffith, attended a meeting with Jearlean John of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), in order to treat with the items identified in the inspection record form which required treatment.
“The landlord and HDC immediately commenced treating with the items identified…which resulted in works being carried out and/or scheduled in relation thereto. The staff at the Immigration Division had since indicated there was no longer a situation of any obnoxious smell on the ground floor,” the PS stated.
The Notice of Contempt
proceedings filed by Minister of Labour Errol McLeod against the Public Services Association and Watson Duke and Purdy Babwah with the Industrial Court:
(a) that Mr Watson Duke, president of the Public Services Association, be committed to prison for contempt for aiding and abetting the breach of the order of the Honourable Court, dated and entered the 3rd day of July 2014, by calling out and/or instructing staff of the Immigration Department/Division and/or encouraging and/or counselling members of the Public Service, public officers and other staff employed at the Immigration Department/Division at No 67 Frederick Street, Port of Spain, and San Fernando to sign in and leave their jobs without working by telling them that the office is shut down until whenever as a result of which, the said members of the Public Service (public officers) namely, those named in the affidavit of Gerry Downes filed herein on the 10th July, 2014, failed and/or refused to work and engaging in industrial action on the following days, that is to say, July 7th, 2014, and July 8th, 2014, and as stated in the said affidavit
(b) that Purdy Babwah, a member of the Public Service, a public officer at the Immigration Department/Division, who failed and/or refused to work on the days stated in the said affidavit of Mr Downes be committed to prison for breaching and/or disobeying the aforesaid order of the Honourable Court dated and entered the 3rd day of July, 2014, by signing the attendance register and leaving her place of work at the Immigration Department/Division and failing and/or refusing to work and engaging in industrial action on the days stated in the said affidavit
(c) that the Public Services Association, acting through its president as aforesaid, be
found guilty of contempt of court for breaches of the said order of this Honourable Court.