The wheels of justice grounded to an abrupt halt today and will remain the same tomorrow, as frustrated workers downed tools at the Barbados Supreme Court Complex, due to worrying environmental conditions.
A second meeting between the workers’ bargaining agent, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Attorney General and Home Affairs Minister Adriel Brathwaite, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, Supreme Court Registrar Barbara Cooke-Alleyne and other officials, is now slated for Friday at
10 o’clock to discuss the way forward.
“The staff came out this morning because of concerns they have [with] the building. We have met with the Attorney General, the permanent secretary, the Chief Justice, the NUPW [and] shop stewards [to] discuss the matter. We are going to close the courts today and tomorrow, and Friday at one o’clock the staff will come back and we will let them know what is happening,” Cooke-Alleyne told reporters following a two-hour long meeting with the various parties this afternoon.
Pressed to disclose the source of the problem, the registrar would only say, “we do have some environmental issues at the court”, but “scientists [have been] on board with us since last year November”.
The workers, including clerks, employees at the Registration Department, marshals, lawyers and other staff, along with NUPW shop steward Bernadette Williams, began protesting from as early as 9 a.m. over the conditions which some said had been ongoing from June 2011 when the Whitepark Road, St Michael building was opened.
Members of the public who were seeking to conduct business at the complex were also affected.
However, while Cooke-Alleyne was mum on the exact environmental issue affecting the structure, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith condemned it as a “sick building”.
“The main area is the roof [and] that would have to be changed because mould is dropping down onto the workers. This is a matter where the roof is not a small issue so it will have to take some time, and it is going to be a high cost to have this building repaired.
“There are other conditions that are affecting the workers at different levels because, as we know, from the time that this building was erected here they always had environmental issues because of where it is situated,” Smith told reporters.
The NUPW official also expressed concern about the number of workers who have fallen ill as a result.
“They cannot work from this building because the [number] of workers who are coming out ill with respiratory and other problems is too high. It is alleged that one of the judges is also ill as a result of working in this environment.
“The Government is supposed to be providing a safe environment for workers. We had the issue with the Treasury [Building] and now we have to look for these persons
. . . [and] as you know we are [also] working with the immigration to get them out of that building,” she said.
Barbados TODAY can confirm that last week a High Court judge “came to work alright” but by the middle of the sitting she lost her voice and was coughing incessantly.
Back in February business in courtrooms on the third floor also had to be abandoned due to what several sources said was “mould on the walls and doors”.
It is a problem that veteran attorney, Hal Gollop, QC, said had been ongoing for quite some time.
“That matter has been complained of from day one. From the first day this building opened, persons have complained about the environment in the building. I myself have had a few problems where my voice went in the early days but it seems to have gotten worse for some people,” Gollop, who was among those standing on the court steps, said.
The situation also affected noted attorney and former president on the Barbados Bar Association Tariq Khan who expressed concern for the health and well-being of workers.
“The staff who have complained about their conditions . . . [have] to be taken seriously. Something has to be done to address that and I hope that the authorities look at this carefully. I hope they are able to restore the service to the members of the public who are entitled to have their matters heard, but the staff need to be able to function in a clear, clean, secure and safe environment,” Khan, who raised the issue some years ago, said.
“This is the courthouse for Barbados. This is where everything happens. There is a sense of urgency. This is a top priority, otherwise everything comes to a standstill,” he added.