Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Duke warns of total passport office collapse

 IF government does not appease Immigration Department workers who have taken industrial action in Port of Spain and San Fernando, the entire system could collapse by this weekend.

This was the threat issued yesterday by president of the Public Services Association (PSA), Watson Duke, who said it would be “all-out war” if terms and conditions of work were not improved.

The action by immigration workers has caused chaos with people unable to get passports renewed and as a result visas to travel during the peak period in July and August.

Duke said it was only a matter of time before the departments in Chaguanas, Point Fortin, Sangre Grande and Tobago were also closed “by the dropping of a hat”.

Two months ago, the passport office in Port of Spain was shut down but now operating intermittently. 

Last month, a department dealing with residency applications stopped functioning. And yesterday, the immigration offices in San Fernando and Henry Street, Port of Spain, and the Detention Centre in Aripo were closed, with a protest taking place in Port of Spain.

An average of 600 employees are affected, Duke said, since all offices were in violation of the Occupation Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

Duke said at the Detention Centre, employees put their lives at risk with no proper safety measures in place and the PSA has complained in writing several times. 

He said: “If the State fail to meet with appropriate calls to solve this issue then we will have to take immigration completely out of service, meaning every single where, immigration would come to a stop. This would be an all- out war.”

He added: “We have been suffering for too long in the worst conditions in the work and asked to produce the best. We are tired of subsidising the cost of labour in this country for the Government and for the employer. We are hoping that this time around, they treat with public officers holistically.” 

Duke said the union was willing to work with the State if the demands were met.

He said: “Let us have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) jointly ensuring public officers step into the appropriate office accommodation. That is between the ministry and the PSA. Let us ensure the buildings comply to us. We are willing to work with them.”

He said while the Government may have to spend extra money to solve the problems, the country’s reputation was more valuable.

Duke said: “It is costing them (State) more in image rather than money because their gateway to international relations is through the Immigration Department. They do more for you than even the Ministry of Tourism because it is through the embassies and the missions that people come to know the country.”


\\ National Security Minister Gary Griffith, speaking to the Express by phone yesterday, said last Friday he and Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal held a meeting with the Chief Immigration Officer, Duke and the PSA. He said another meeting was set to take place yesterday and he will make an official statement on the issue today.