It is not certain that teachers and other Ministry of Education employees will get their salaries on time this month, following a walk-out at the Ministry’s Paysheets and Finance and Accounting departments, Public Services Association president Watson Duke said yesterday.
Speaking with the media at his office on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, Duke raised several health and safety issues which prompted the walk-out of 200-plus workers on Tuesday from the offices located in buildings on Pembroke Street.
“We recognise in every struggle there must be some suffering. We are not certain but I can tell you that since Tuesday the work has not been effective at Paysheets and Finance and Accounts building,” said Duke.
“The employees are asking for their rights, not for a gift or a favour they are asking the minister for, they are asking for their rights, to be treated as human beings and if in exercise of doing that they have to stand up and not do the paysheets then so be it, but the minister will have to pay for that.”
Duke explained that the Paysheets building houses about 75-100 employees, while the Finance and Accounting department comprises four floors and houses about 200 employees who have been placed in unacceptable conditions.
“A careful reading of the OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) Act 2004 will outline guidelines and regulations on how the employer should care for the employees’ health, their safety and their welfare while they are at work. The Ministry of Education has defaulted in that responsibility, as a matter of fact, they have blatantly violated that law.
“I stepped in on Tuesday to recognise that none of the ministry’s buildings that I have checked thus far are equipped with a working fire alarm. Further, we recognise that the muster point for the Education building on Pembroke Street is within a gated carpark that is always locked,” said Duke.
“Workers have complained to us that there are no evacuation plans for either of those buildings, there is no properly serviced fire extinguishers and there is an abundant form of what we will term as fungus—we have not tested it yet—emanating from the vents and I am told they are now trying to wipe them.”
And there is also an over-crowding issue at the buildings which is another OSH violation.
Duke said the employees have been threatened and molested, but the employees at the ministry’s head office in St Clair have also walked off the job.
“While I was addressing the staff at the Ministry of Education head office in St Clair (last week Friday), we saw several rats roaming inside the building and in several of those buildings rat poison can be seen openly among the staff ... it is a known fact. At one point in time the workers at the pay sheets had ticks inside the toilets,” he added.
Duke said a building has been built with Education Ministry employees in mind, on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, yet the Permanent Secretary is saying they are looking for a building to move the staff.
“In 2010 we were informed by the then Minister of Education (Esther Le Gendre) that in September the building would be ready for occupancy.
“However, from then to now, a lot of foolish talk is being made by the PS that they are looking for a building and that they are even considering Alexandra One Place, Tragarete Road, which is a building being rented by Local Government and no one is occupying.
“We are saying the Government should not be paying rent. There is a building down there, on St Vincent Street, occupy that building, that is our position on it. We are saying fix the building floor by floor. You can’t have ten billion (dollars) in a budget and not think about the employees who are actually making education come alive and productive.”
Duke said if the authorities are looking for a war, they have gotten one, because the PSA is not backing down on this issue.