Minister says to take action following Piarco immigration chaos

Frustrated passengers wait in line to go through Immigration at the Piarco International Airport on Sunday.

(Trinidad Guardian) National Security Minister Edmund Dillon says action will be taken against Immigration officers found in breach of the Immigration Act following the chaos caused by apparent sick-out action at the Piarco International Airport on Sunday.

Dillon also confirmed a detailed report was prepared and submitted to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on the matter yesterday.

Rowley also confirmed receiving the report in a text message response to Guardian Media last night.

Only two of the 15 Immigration officers turned up for duty at Piarco on Sunday, resulting in hundreds of passengers having to wait as long as four and a half hours to be cleared after arriving on flights. Many, even the elderly, complained the situation was untenable, as some were forced to sit on the floor and had no food.

In a release last evening, Dillon said the situation returned to normal around 7 pm Sunday.

Frustrated passengers wait in line to go through Immigration at the Piarco International Airport on Sunday.

“A report with reference to the unusual occurrence at the airport yesterday (Sunday) has been submitted by the CIO (Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Ghandhi-Andrews) and necessary actions will be taken against anyone found culpable,” Dillon said.

He apologised to travellers for the inconvenience and assured that emergency measures have been put in place in order to mitigate any future occurrences.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert also expressed concern over the situation during an interview on CNC3’s Morning Brew yesterday.

“It was chaos. We need to call a spade a spade. Although it was not my department I decided as a member of the Government … I needed to find out what was going on so I called and I discovered that only two of the 15 immigration officers that were rostered to work yesterday (Sunday) did not show up and a number of them did not call in at all,” Imbert said.

But there was a full complement of officers yesterday with the Airports Authority of T&T confirming there were no hiccups. In its own statement on Sunday’s situation, the authority said it was in discussion with the National Security Ministry to implement technological solutions to improve passenger facilitation at the airports and reduce waiting time.

“We look forward to incidents, such as what happened yesterday (Sunday), to being a thing of the past,” the AATT said.

But one Immigration official yesterday denied officers were on strike in protest over non-payment of overtime, travelling and subsistence, saying the officers who failed to report for duty on Sunday were either on casual leave or sick leave due to “red eye.”

“All of these leaves were pre-approved. It was not a strike, but since the officers are not paid overtime no one cannot compel them to work extra hours. Normally what you have is either officers from the preceding shift or the relieving shift holding on,” the official said.

He said there were also a “plethora of complaints” against a senior officer, who junior officers claim is engaging in “victimisation, favouritism and mismanagement of funds.” The officer said the management had been turning a “blind eye” to this issue.

Addressing the action yesterday, Public Services Association president Watson Duke said for far too long Immigration officers were faced with a number of issues, including non-payment of overtime. However, he distanced himself and the PSA for the action.

“In no way the president of the PSA was responsible. The Immigration officers are under an injunction and we want to make it absolutely clear that yesterday (Sunday) had nothing to do with industrial action,” Duke said in a television interview.

“Workers have a right to work overtime or refuse overtime. And when persons are called out to work overtime in immigration they are not paid their overtime. People in this country must understand that employees have rights and their rights cannot be trifled with.”

On whether employees who were rostered to work the shift stayed away from the job, Duke said he could not say but maintained he would not encourage people to work for free in this country.

“Why should they work free, who works for free in this country? The Prime Minister was suspended from Parliament and he came out begging publicly for his money,” Duke said, although noting he was unhappy with the long lines and frustration endured by passengers on Sunday.

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