The Ministry of Transport’s Licensing Office at Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, continued to look deserted as just about 17 people arrived to conduct business transactions by 9 a.m. yesterday.
A few customers were spoken to by members of staff behind the counter, but they had no reason to jostle for space in the usual long queues on the fourth day of industrial action.
Some of the disgruntled members of the public even slipped to the back of the compound and took a ringside seat to hear Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke’s tirade, in which he called for the rejection of the draft proposal, which had sought to address health and safety issues for about 100 employees.
The proposal included clauses like altering the work day from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. after talks with Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz.
Duke also called for the “sick building” to be shut down for two weeks so it could be fixed.
Among the disgruntled citizens were St Joseph resident Shahneed Koon Koon, who said: “They should have put things in place for everyone. The other option is San Fernando.”
Roland Boodoo said: “It’s frustrating. I have been trying to transfer a maxi about a month now and they can’t seem to resolve it. Duke means well. But this is a third world country. You can’t shut down a whole building because of a few rats. People are accustomed to working under those conditions.”
While the administrative building was not functioning at its full capacity, the perimeter of the courtyard was lined with staff and uniformed licensing officers.
For the fourth consecutive day, Duke issued the command to “sign (the register) and leave”.
During Duke’s heated address, he said: “I stopped marching ... marching does wear out shoes. Shutting down is much easier. Christmas is when people does want car for their wife? Christmas is really going to be a blue Christmas.”
During an interview, Duke went a step further and said about $1 billion and even Chinese labour could be used to fix the “sick building”, which boasted a litany of woes, including asbestos, no fire escape, and a porous ceiling.
He also said he was meeting with a senior counsel to prepare a summons for the Transport Ministry’s permanent secretary, Verna Johnson, or Transport Commissioner Reuben Cato by Monday.
“We continue to be appalled by the way Cadiz has been treating the workers. They want workers to compromise, but they are not compromising to give workers a great opportunity to do decent work in a clean and healthy environment.
“We are advising the ministry to shut it down for two weeks. Spend all the money and fix it and then the public could get better service. Give us a decent working building. We don’t want no half-day, we have no problem with the compound. If they can’t fix it, find another building.”
Asked about the increased workload at the ministry’s South’s office at Balisier Avenue, Pleasantville, Cato said: “It is accommodating all the people as best as it can.
“South personnel is not complaining at providing these services to the best of their ability. I want to commend staff at Wrightson Road who did not heed PSA’s call and provided some assistance to the public. They transferred motor vehicles and registered new ‘roll on roll off vehicles’ and provided certificates and special services for maxi taxis.”
Via a telephone interview, Cadiz said the ministry was going to take a “further look at the structural issues over the weekend and, by Monday, it will know it’s actual condition”.
Cadiz said he wanted to assure the public he was listening to the issues raised by Duke and dealing with them.