OWTU Vice President Peter Burke, right, speaks to members of the media during a press conference at OWTU Paramount Building, San Fernando, yesterday. From left are Chandrasain Ramsingh, John Johnson and Richard Roopnarine.

Workers, including the security staff, employed the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC) have been advised to take whatever means necessary within the law to protect themselves from being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.

The call came from Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union’s executive vice president Peter Burke who again accused T&TEC of displaying a callous and “doh care” attitude towards protecting workers and mitigating the spread of the virus.

Burke said at least seven workers–three employed in the South, three in the North and one in Arima– have tested positive for the virus, while some 50 workers in total have had to be self-quarantined, 20 of whom are still in quarantine. On Thursday, workers from the T&TEC Port-of-Spain branch refused to work until they got answers from management after learning that seven security officers were sent on self-quarantine after exhibiting flu-like system.

Speaking at a press conference at the OWTU headquarters in San Fernando on Saturday, Burke accused management of reneging on an agreement with the union to implement a two-week rotation work shift, which coincides with the isolation COVID-19 policy, to reduce the infection rate. “What we are having is the one day in, one day out which really does not help anybody.” He claimed the commission has not been forthright with the workforce or the unions about the rate of infections and its self-isolation procedure. “We have found that the commission is trying to hide the information, suppress the information.”

Burke claimed the commission has been allowing workers who were exposed to the virus to continue working. “And that is highly irresponsible,” he said, adding that the commission has been hiding behind government regulations. He also complained that sanitisation was not being done effectively and efficiently and said there was a shortage of masks and gloves.

He advised workers, “You a right to self-protection and self-preservation. Notwithstanding the fact that the management does not always practice the duty of care which they are legally, morally and ethically obligated, you have that responsibility to protect yourselves and you must do so within all the means of the law, the collective agreement and your own personal responsibility.”

Noting that the country was in full-blown community spread, he warned that if the commission fails to get its act together, it could lead to increased spread within and outside the workplace.

He appealed to the management a of T&TEC to act responsibly. He also appealed to the Government and Ministry of Health not to “cooperate with misguided managers in the state and private sector” to put workers at risk.

T&TEC responds

Guardian contacted T&TEC’s corporate communications manager Annabelle Bransnell for a response to the union’s claims and confirmation on the number of employees who tested positive or were in self-isolation. However, she referred us to the company’s statement that was issued on Thursday in response to the union’s claims that the company was not doing enough to protect workers from becoming infected with the virus. Further attempts to contact Brasnell on her cellphone were unsuccessful. Last Thursday T&TEC sent out a statement denying that it was putting workers at risk of contracting the virus. The Commission stated that all COVID-19 protocols were in place, including the distribution of masks and other PPE and all Ministry of Health guidelines were being followed. Once there is a COVID 19 situation, the Commission said the ministry is informed.