Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister reacts to Twin Island Republic’s Immigration Deadlock
“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. Each day this persists the situation becomes more urgent. The industrial action by the PSA is deemed by the Government to be unreasonable, unjust and illegal.
On behalf of citizens and in the interest of the nation at large, the Government will do everything in its power to avert the continued shutting down of essential services.
I will however 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.
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. Even those seeking to travel for urgent medical attention, employment or to take up places at educational institutions have been jeopardized and put at risk.
The cost in human and economic terms is incalculable.
There must be some reason and responsibility brought to bear upon the situation by those who lead these discussions.
In much the same way that the PSA represents its membership, the citizens of this nation are also entitled to be represented. In this regard, the Honourable Minister of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprises has a duty and obligation imposed by section 65(1) of the Industrial Relations Act to protect the national interest from industrial action, especially by public officers, who are forbidden by the Act from taking any kind of industrial action. It is in this respect that the Honourable Minister has sought and acquired the protection of the Courts through the successful filing of an injunction.
In support of the Honourable Minister’s application was an affidavit filed by the Chief Immigration Officer in para 18 of the affidavit which stated that:
The disruptive action of the staff at the offices referred to above have also resulted in the following:
(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.
The Industrial Court sat in emergency session late this evening to hear the application for an injunction filed by Labour Minister Errol McLeod against the Public Service Association led by Watson Duke.
A five member Court chaired by the President of the Industrial Court, Her honour Deborah Thomas-Felix sat to hear the application for the ex parte application for the injunction. Other members of the Court included Their Honours Mr. Kyrl Jack, Mr. Albert Aberdeen, Ms. Kathleen George-Marcelle and Mr. Larry Achong.
The Court granted an injunction restraining the Public Services Association, its President, Officers, Servants, Agents, Members and Staff of the Immigration Department in the MNS from taking and/or continuing to take Industrial action contrary to the Industrial Relations Act Chap 88:01.
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 Order.
Public officers are therefore expected to resume work this morning.
The Government has demonstrated much restraint in this matter as it continued to negotiate in good faith with the 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.
My Government remains open to genuine and meaningful dialogue in the public interest.
I urge all parties concerned to quicken the urgency to find common ground and broaden perspectives in the national interest.
Even as I recognise that everyone has the right to protest, no one has the right to hold a nation to ransom.
We are better than this as a nation. Let us find the 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.”