‘FREE AGENTS’: Public Service Association (PSA) president Watson Duke, second from right, leads workers at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court yesterday, following a meeting to inform their supervisor of their intention to vacate the building. —Photo: TREVOR WATSON

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Staff walk out Sando court

...Duke: The PSA will protect them

By \\\\\ Nikita Braxton-Benjamin nikita.braxton@trinidadexpress.com

STAFF at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court who raised health and safety concerns walked off the job yesterday following a visit by president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke.

Duke who said he went to the court to “educate the workers of their rights” said he yesterday observed aedes aegypti mosquitoes, humid courtrooms, drooping ceilings, asbestos material, tarpaulin covering the roof, stained carpets, the scent of mould, glass windows covered with dust, outdated fire extinguishers and no fire escape plans.

He also said there was a stench in the courtroom and the workers had complained of water seeping into the court when it rained.

Duke asked about the court’s fire certificate, saying that should there be none, the building should not be occupied and the employer could face jail or a fine.

“If there is no valid fire certificate for that building, I declare that building unfit for occupation,” he said.

He called for a structural engineer, the Fire Service and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) officials to assess the building’s safety.

Duke also distributed forms for the workers to state their safety concerns at the courthouse. These forms, he said, will be handed over to the chief inspector of occupational health and safety.

He said after the forms are submitted the inspector will have 24  hours to conduct the inspection in the workers’ presence.

The issues at the courthouse were brought to Duke’s attention by attorney Ainsley Lucky who yesterday said the last time refurbishment was done at the court was back in 2006.

Duke arrived at the San Fernando courthouse around 9 a.m. and entered the area occupied by the clerical staff.

He was told by a security official he would not be able to conduct a meeting in that area and he and members of staff were then accommodated in the San Fernando Second Court. Duke spoke for approximately 15 minutes, making reference to the copies of the Occupational Safety and Health Act which he distributed.

Area court manager Cherylin Burns, a justice of the peace, security officials and a magistrate and attorneys were present.

After Burns told him of the time- frame to speak to the workers, Duke suggested they head outside.

Burns intervened, reminding staff members of a meeting held two weeks ago in which on-going work at the courthouse was discussed.

She also spoke of a public notice in the newspapers of further work carded to be done at the court and of them being relocated in about a year’s time.

She reminded them that the building had been sprayed less than two months ago and that spraying could not be done on a continuous basis as the insects could become immune.

But the workers went outside where they were again addressed by Duke and the forms were distributed.

They returned to court for about an hour. About 30 employees then left for the day. Trainee workers remained.

The Express was told that cash transactions and other administrative matters were affected.

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