Turned away: People seeking services from the Immigration Office in Port of Spain look at a “Closed” sign yesterday, At left is master drummer Peter Telfer. —Photo AYANNA KINSALE

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Duke shuts down Immigration

By Michelle Loubon

The Immigration Office on Frederick Street, Port of Spain was yesterday shut down by president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke who labelled it “a sick building”.
Duke said about 100 people were affected by lack of an emergency exit in the event of a fire, there was no fire certificate and the air quality was low. He posted closed notices outside the building.
To date, Duke said he has closed about 20 buildings in which 5,000 employees work as a way to pressure the relevant authorities to address health and safety concerns.
Asked about the Immigration Office, in a telephone interview Duke said: “We shut down Immigration around 8 a.m. We will shut it down as long as there is no clear solution. We advised them (workers) to sign and leave at 8 a.m. I can’t divulge which building I will be shutting down in San Fernando. But mark my word, it will be shut down.”
Commenting on the issue, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Catherine Kumar, said government has a responsibility to ensure the buildings comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). She also said when important buildings like the Immigration Office on Frederick Street are shut down everyone is affected.
Via a telephone interview yesterday, Kumar said: “Government has a responsibility to ensure the buildings employees occupy comply with OSHA. It is legislation that was passed. The government has to ensure they are complying with the legislation.”
Kumar added: “Duke has been going into the buildings, and, in some cases the needs assessment are not completed. In the event that what Duke is saying is true, government needs to fix these buildings. It is a responsibility for both private and public sector. The relevant Ministry (Housing) really needs to review the spaces they are asking employees to occupy.”
Zeroing on the inconvenience caused by the Immigration Office’s closure, Kumar said: “It is an important organisation. Immigration and big ones like Inland Revenue have a significant impact on the economy on the whole. Even when these businesses are up and running for eight hours per day, they don’t get the level of service that business expects. They need to meet urgently with Duke and discuss how they are going to go forward.”
Meanwhile, Kumar said it was not a “quick fix” with regard to some buildings.
She said: “Some of these things require capital outlay and time to make it happen. There needs to be a full plan on how it will be rolled out. The relevant ministries need to follow up and get the buildings to the level where they are acceptable for both public and employee usage.”
Kumar said there was need for dialogue.
“Immigration is a big one. Inland Revenue is a big one. Every few days, Duke is shutting down some building. Both parties have to realise there are serious consequences and when there is an impact on business it impacts on everyone in the society. It has a rippling effect on the consumer of the street. Then it impacts on the productivity, cost of doing business, which in some way may find itself being transferred onto the consumer.”
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