THE WATER-TAXI service from north to south Trinidad was inundated with passengers on Wednesday and yesterday as commuters sought alternatives to getting to their homes after a large number of Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) employees staged a sick-out.
According to Transport and Industrial Workers Union (TIWU) president Roland Sutherland, the PTSC workers are protesting what they describe as the slow pace of negotiations between the union and the chief personnel officer (CPO).
Responding to the sick-out, Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma, who appeared on TV6's Morning Edition programme yesterday, said, "Industrial action happens all the time," and not only in Trinidad and Tobago.
He said there had been meetings with PTSC employees as negotiations between their union and the CPO continued, but "it was they who decided on this course of action".
According to one female commuter on Wednesday, she tried getting the PTSC's Deluxe Coach Service, then a regular bus, and then the water taxi.
She said at 3 p.m., there were no buses or coaches and the water-taxis sailing at 3.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. had been sold out, with just the 5.30 p.m. sailing available.
The commuter, who did not want to be named, said, "I have absolutely no idea what I will do on Thursday, but I heard that a lot of people bought the water- taxi tickets in advance.
"I also heard that some people chose to remain in their offices (on Wednesday) and planned to leave work very late."
The woman continued, "In other cases some people chose to go to Curepe first, then to Chaguanas, then to San Fernando, so it's very difficult and may get even worse."
Sutherland said his comrades were not allowed to protest.
However, they are allowed to take two days' sick leave without requiring a letter from a medical practitioner.
He said, "The workers, especially the drivers, are unhappy with the slow pace of negotiations, but in the meantime they are having to meet all kind of expenses and they feel that they are being neglected.
"What they are saying is that their function is very important compared to others because, for example, a van driver for TSTT gets $50 an hour but the bus driver, who has to move people to and from their homes and workplaces, gets $34 an hour."
Sutherland continued, "I was told the Port of Spain branch is working at about 50 per cent, while the San Fernando branch was down, the Chaguanas branch was down, while Arima and Point Fortin had three workers.
"We cannot burn tyres for the Government to pay us some attention but we simply want them to pay us our rates," he said.
PTSC general manager Ronald Forde said on Wednesday that despite the sick-out they were still providing a service, albeit limited.
He said he visited the bus platforms in Port of Spain and noticed that some routes had been properly serviced with no long lines of frustrated passengers.
"There are committed people in this country and although I am not happy with the truncated service there are still workers who are committed to the commuters and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
"I know that a large number of drivers chose to sick-out today and these union negotiations have been going on for sometime, but we at the PTSC are committed to moving the population as best we could," said Forde.