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‘Refusing to work is not industrial action’

By \\\\\ Camille Hunte

Senior counsel Douglas Mendes yesterday questioned why Chief Inspector at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) Gaekwad Ramoutar stated in his affidavit that the Immigration Office at #67 Frederick Street was fit for occupation when evidence showed that there were “dangerous practices” taking place in the building. 

Mendes was  cross-examining Ramoutar who was the State’s second witness as hearing into contempt of court proceedings against Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke and Ramoutar continued at the Industrial Court in Port of Spain yesterday. Mendes is representing Duke.

In his affidavit, Ramoutar stated: “There is no serious and imminent danger to persons who may occupy or use the building, nor does there exist any unusual circumstance which has arisen that is hazardous or injurious to any such persons’ life or health”. 

Mendes asked Ramoutar if he had written the affidavit himself or if it was written by State Attorney Derek Ali and then given to him to sign.

Ramoutar initially responded that he had written the affidavit but later stated that Ali had prepared it after taking statements from him. He said however that the words contained in the affidavit were indeed his.

Mendes also raised questions as to Ramoutar’s credibility, stating that Ramoutar did not meet the minimum qualifications necessary for the position of Chief Inspector. The position requires a degree in Occupational Safety and Health but Ramoutar holds a degree in Environmental Management, he said.

Yesterday also marked the fifth and final day of cross-examination of Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes. 

Mendes resumed his questioning of Downes after being absent from the proceedings on Wednesday due to illness. Mendes said sections of Downes’ affidavit that he claimed were “misleading”. 

He said  Downes’ affidavit mentioned that a worker had been “burnt”, which could lead the court to believe that the worker sustained a simple burn, when in fact the worker had been engulfed in flames, and the fire extinguisher retrieved to douse the flames was non-functional.

Downes was subsequently relieved from further attending court.

Throughout the proceedings, Mendes stressed that refusal to work because of unsafe conditions did not amount to industrial action. 

“I will never support that the orders of the court can be ignored,” Mendes stated. “What was prohibited was not refusing to work. What was prohibited in the order was industrial action.”

Mendes maintained that no industrial action had taken place and stated that constitutional rights must be accorded if a penalty of imprisonment is being sought. 

*The matter was adjourned to 10.30 a.m. today, when cross-examination of Ramoutar is expected to continue. 

*Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Carl Francis is also expected to give evidence today.

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