Workers at this island’s main judicial complex are to remain off the job, at least until next week.
This morning the group of Government-paid employees met with key officials of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) on the steps of the Supreme Court complex on White Park Road, St Michael and were advised by the union to await its all-clear before venturing back into the building, which has recently been plagued by environmental problems.
This latest order contradicts the advice issued to the workers – the majority of whom are unionized – by Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson and Registrar Barbara Cooke-Alleyne last Friday for them to immediately return to their posts.
During a press conference held in the judges’ lounge of the White Park Road complex, Sir Marston, while conceding that investigations had revealed the presence of mould, dust mites and other allergens that were potentially hazardous to the health of occupants, revealed that hearings were still being held in a “remediated” section of the building.
Cooke-Alleyne had also announced that workers from the Registration Department would be returning to the Supreme Court complex today and that following a meeting with her staff they too had agreed to immediately go back.
However, this morning, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith accused both Sir Marston and Cooke-Alleyne of reneging on a decision taken during a meeting of stakeholders last Tuesday to relocate the court’s operations over the next two weeks, including to the neighbouring CLICO building at White Park Road; the Ministry of Home Affairs, the new Cane Garden Complex in St Thomas, the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre and the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court.
The move was said at the time to be pending completion of an environmental assessment by the University of the West Indies, as well as remedial work.
“I am bit disappointed at the level of behaviour from the Chief Justice and the Registrar. These are two well-known and respected public officers and we expect them to be true to their word,” Smith said, while insisting that her union was not aware of any arrangements for workers to return to the building today.
She pointed out that since last Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, no consultations had taken place with the NUPW. Smith also told reporters she was deeply disturbed by reports that employees were being threatened with reassignment if they did not show up for work.
“I received a WhatsApp alleging that court authorities will call in people to work and those persons who refused to work would be reassigned. So I have to check that out to see. I would hope that this is not true and good sense would prevail,” the senior trade unionist said, while threatening a stern response if these reports turned out to be true.
The NUPW spokeswoman was however adamant that the workers would not be returning to work in the so-called “sick” building that currently houses the island’s main judicial operations.
“The workers would be clearing their desks of their belongings and they would not be reporting back to work. By next week, we are supposed to get the progress report on the CLICO building, so workers would be off the job at least until then,” she explained.
At the same time, she accused Government of dragging its feet on the proposed temporary fix.
“With regard to the deal that was made last week, I thought that the vault and files would have already been cleaned to go the Attorney General’s headquarters. Yet we see the persons here being asked to deal with the same contaminate files today,” lamented Smith.