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Passport office workers walk out over dust

By Michelle Loubon

President of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke said employees of the Production Unit, which is located on the third floor of the Immigration Office on Frederick Street, Port of Spain, will be returning to work today. 

Yesterday, employees reported for work but they left the compound prematurely due to health issues from the dust in the atmosphere. Their move to halt work temporarily stemmed from the dust that was circulating and causing breathing problems. Trash which was left behind by the crew of workmen on the compound had to be cleaned up. 

Via a telephone interview yesterday, Duke said: “Those employees on the ground floor returned to work. Yesterday, those on the third floor had a ‘temporary stoppage’. It is nothing permanent. They will go back to work today.  

“Once work is being done in a building, the onus is on  the workmen to clean up their trash. The employees are not cleaning up anybody’s trash. Neither are they  working in any dirty building. They reported for  work. But they left because the environment was bad for their health.” 

Duke added: “There was a tightness in their chests from the dust. Their sinuses started affecting them right away. People with respiratory problems like asthma could not work comfortably. There was too much dust everywhere.”

Asked how may employees were affected, Duke said: “I don’t know the exact number. But I know they normally produce about 200 passports per day. The public can rest assured they will be back out today.” 

Meanwhile, Duke said  employees from the Food Production and Forestry Division will be meeting with Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Stephanie Lewis to sort out a  43-year-old reclassification matter around 9.30 a.m. today.  

He said: “We  will be taking massive action today. Hundreds of employees will be coming to the Twin Towers (St Vincent Street) I will met with them first. It is a matter they have been pussyfooting over for a long time.”  

 Within recent times, Duke said he shut down about 20 buildings, in which 5,000 employees work, as a means of pressuring the Government to address health and safety issues. 

On Monday, Duke  also met with Finance Minister Larry Howai who gave  him the assurance about 1,500 employees from offices like the Treasury Division and Board of Inland Revenue will be taken by bus for voluntary testing. 

Howai also promised to engage in a walkthrough some of the buildings deemed “sick” by Duke to determine the extent of damage and the adequate type of restoration or  beautification works which had to be undertaken.

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