There will be no negotiation when the nation is held to ransom and the rights of citizens are compromised, says Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Persad-Bissessar said her Government will not condone the illegal shutting down of Immigration offices by the Public Services Association (PSA) which threatens to endanger the lives of thousands of citizens.
The Prime Minister made the statement at the South terminal of the Piarco International Airport on her return from a Caricom meeting in Antigua on Thursday night.
The Industrial Court had hours earlier granted an injunction to Labour Minister Errol McLeod restraining the PSA from shutting down public offices.
“I regret that good sense did not prevail by the PSA. Negotiations on wages continue to be held by Government in good faith but we cannot have the PSA hold the entire nation to ransom with the continued shutdown of Immigration offices and other areas of critical service to the nation,” said Persad-Bissessar.
She said her Government deems the industrial action by the PSA to be unreasonable, unjust and illegal and will do everything in its power to avert the continued shutting down of essential services.
“My expressed intention to talk things through must not be construed as a weakness but the strength in my belief for workers’ entitlement to better conditions,” said Persad-Bissessar.
She said she will not condone the attack on the fundamental rights of citizens such as the freedom of movement and the right of a citizen to hold a passport or the right to conduct their daily businesses.
“These cannot be tools to be bargained with to advance any interest especially when negotiations are continuing in good faith,” she said.
The Prime Minister said threats of shutting the country down cannot be taken lightly when Immigration offices and other areas serving the vital needs of the population remain closed, inconveniencing and even endangering the lives of thousands of citizens.
She said those seeking to travel for urgent medical attention, employment or to take up places at educational institutions have been jeopardised and put at risk.
Persad-Bissessar said the cost in human and economic terms was incalculable.
She said in much the same way that the PSA represents its membership, citizens also entitled to be represented and in this regard McLeod had a duty to protect the people by filing the injunction against PSA.
The Prime Minister explained that the effect of this injunction is such that any public officer who takes or continues to take industrial action at the Immigration Departments of the State will be in breach and violation of a Court.
Government, she said, demonstrated much restraint in this matter as it continued to negotiate in good faith with PSA President Watson Duke in the hope of an amicable resolution.
“Unfortunately, this was not possible and the State was under a duty to protect the public interest in light of the understandable public frustration, inconvenience and distress,” she said.
She added her Government remains open to genuine and meaningful dialogue in the public interest and urged all parties concerned to quicken the urgency to find common ground and broaden perspectives in the national interest.
The Prime Minister called for maturity and level-headedness necessary to resolve these issues in a responsible manner.
“I am open to finding this common ground but I will exercise every resource available to me in ensuring the rights of citizens are not compromised. There is no room for negotiation on that, rest assured,” she asserted.
pm lays down the law:
n The Prime Minister quoted from an affidavit filed by the Chief Immigration Officer (part of the injunction application) which outlined the consequences of shutting down the Immigration offices as follows.
(i) Extensions of entry certificates for non nationals to remain in the country are not being processed;
(ii) Interviews for permanent resident status are not being conducted;
(iii) Interviews for foreign student permits are not being conducted;
(iv) Visas are not being processed and issued to non-nationals who require them;
(v) There has been a halt of the posting of security bonds for non-nationals whose intended stay in Trinidad and Tobago exceeds one year;
(vi) The work of the Work Permit Committee for work permit is hampered or effectively at a standstill because information is not being supplied to the work permit committee for work permit applications;
(vii) The ability of the Department to deal with reports with respect to persons illegally in Trinidad and Tobago is severely disrupted;
(viii) The inability to issue new machine readable passports has placed citizens who hold the old passport, which are only valid up to the end of June 2014, in the position of being unable to obtain the new machine readable passports and therefore unable to travel.
(ix) Citizens who have been unable to obtain their passports for travel have had their constitutional freedom of travel as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago taken away.
(x) Citizens who are out of Trinidad and Tobago and cannot have their passports renewed are at risk of not having any valid form of identification while abroad and/or may not be able to travel on expired travel documents and so trapped abroad.
(xi) The Department’s ability to administer the Immigration Laws of the country is severely affected including the enforcement of the Department, which deals with persons or permitted entrants who are no longer so to be treated.
(xii) The integrity of the country’s passports could in the circumstances be questioned by international agencies.