PORT OF SPAIN – A group of casino workers facing unemployment from the pressures proposed tax increases for the gaming sector took their protest to the home of Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday morning.
According to reports, around 9 am the group of approximately 60 workers, some with children, lined the street in front Imbert’s Hillsboro, Maraval home, in the hope of getting an impromptu meeting with him.
However, the protesting workers left disappointed as they were forced to disperse after police officers were summoned to the scene.
On the advice of Imbert’s wife Suzanne, who came outside to briefly address them, the protesters eventually placed a letter addressed to Imbert in his post box.
In an interview with CNC 3, the workers said they decided to stage the protest on the Divali public holiday after Imbert ignored their requests for a meeting after similar action was taken in front of Parliament and his Diego Martin North/East constituency office following his reading of the 2017/2018 Budget earlier this month.
“We went to his constituency office, we went to Parliament and he just keep passing us straight and shutting us out. We are here to plead with him and show him how serious it is because most of us here lost our jobs,” worker Anne-Marie Farmer said.
Members Club and Lottery Workers Union spokesperson Maxine Gonzales said the workers decided on the unusual move without the knowledge of their employers, who had led them in previous protests against the tax increases.
“We are here today against the wishes of our employers. They don’t even know we came here today. We are just a group of women who decided enough is enough,” Gonzales said.
“We brace the rain and bad weather to come out here and you would not give us a fair hearing. Shubh Divali to you. It have none for me because I out here in the rain.”
When a news team from the T&T Guardian visited the up-scale hillside community, the protesters had already left but there were three marked police cars still patrolling near to Imbert’s house.
Imbert was seen peering from his second story balcony and later sent a male relative to enquire as to the identities of the reporter and photographer who was taking photographs of the house. The relative, who did not identify himself, said he and the family did not want to comment on the earlier protest.
During his Budget presentation on October 2, Imbert announced a series of increases in taxes for gambling licences and machines. The tax increases are to take effect on January 1, 2018. He also criticized the largely unregulated gambling industry, stating that far too many casinos and members clubs were evading their tax obligations and were engaged in money laundering.
“The present tax payment compliance rate of only 10 per cent by industry participants in the gambling industry is unacceptable and can no longer be tolerated,” Imbert had said.
But the move was strongly opposed by the T&T Private Members’ Club Association, which has accused the Government of acting in bad faith by raising the taxes whilst the Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Bill of 2016 was still before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.
The legislation seeks to provide for the establishment of the Gambling Control Commission which will regulate the gaming and betting sectors and enforce a new strict licensing regime. The association claims that move will force the closure of multiple small gambling establishments, with some of them having reportedly already closed up shop.