President of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke will be able to watch this weekend’s World Cup final a free man as contempt proceedings brought against him are not expected to be completed for at least two more weeks.
Contempt proceedings against the PSA, Duke and Purdy Babwah, a member of the Public Service and a public officer at the Immigration Division, began at the Industrial Court yesterday.
Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes took the witness stand and admitted he was not “satisfied” with the numerous violations noted by health and safety inspectors during a planned inspection of the Immigration Division in Port of Spain last week and he did not expect his employees to be satisfied either.
Labour Minister Errol McLeod 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.
From as early as 10 a.m. yesterday, Immigration officers dressed in their uniforms and members of the PSA gathered outside the Industrial Court.
At 10.50 a.m., a group of eight uniformed police officers entered the Industrial Court.
At 11 a.m., Duke arrived at the Industrial Court and was greeted with cheers and loud applause from the dozens gathered outside the building.
The Essential Services Division (ESD) courtroom was packed to capacity yesterday, with the majority of those in attendance being Immigration officers.
The Minister of Labour was represented by Senior Counsel Russell Martineau and attorneys Addison Khan and Derek Ali.
Downes sat behind that legal team.
The PSA, Duke and Babwah were represented by Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes and attorneys Michael Quamina, John Heath, and Anthony Bullock.
Duke and Babwah sat side by side behind their legal team.
Around 11.15 a.m., president of the Industrial Court Deborah Thomas-Felix and judges Larry Achong, Albert Aberdeen, Kyril Jack and Kathleen George-Marcelle entered the courtroom.
Mendes submitted that the tribunal hearing the proceedings was not independent since it was the executive which decided if the appointment of a judge is renewed.
He said the “insecurity of tenure” of the jud-
ges, with the exception of the president, could cause a “subconscious bias” among the panel.
“The liberty of my clients is at stake, and it is extremely important that the tribunal must be independent,” Mendes said.
Mendes said the Attorney General is responsible for the reappointment of judges at the Industrial Court.
He said the lack of security of tenure would have the judges “going cap in hand, saying, ‘Please, please, Attorney General, give me some more.’”
Martineau however said despite the terms of a judge’s renewal of contract, he was “confident” the Industrial Court has always exercised an independent judgment.
“The fact is those fears are unfounded. I am sure all my lordships are made of sterner stuff,” Martineau said.
The tribunal adjourned to consider Mendes’ submission.
After 30 minutes, the submission was dismissed and the contempt matter began.
Downes took the witness stand around 1.20 p.m.
Mendes addressed the findings of a planned
inspection of the Immigration Division at Frederick St, which was conducted by health and safety inspectors Dr Rosalie Holder and Mark Gillette on Friday 4.
Downes admitted the ground-floor toilet of the Immigration Division was shared by 15/20 employees, both male and female.
He agreed with the inspectors there was an “obnoxious smell” in the building and there were no provisions for the safety of pregnant em-
ployees, nursing mothers and unborn children.
Downes said an annual risk assessment was not done of the building and there had been reports from employees of itching.
Mendes said on June 23, an employee of the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) caught fire while doing work at the Immigration Division’s Port of Spain building, and the fire extinguisher used to put out the blaze did not work.
The health inspectors also found hanging wires throughout the building and there was not a valid fire certificate.
Mendes asked Downes if he was satisfied with these violations, in light of the incident involving the T&TEC employee.
“No, I will not be satisfied with that,” Downes said.
Mendes asked if the employees therefore should be satisfied.
“No, I do not expect them to be satisfied,” he said.
Around 3.10 p.m., Thomas-Felix adjourned the matter.
The hearing has been adjourned to next Friday.
All of July 22 and half of the day on July 24 have also been set aside for the matter.
Labour Minister: Jail PSA head
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.