Courts hit hard as public servants stay off job

Hundreds of public servants working in the Judiciary have heeded the Public Service Association (PSA)'s call to stay away from work in protest of the proposed restructuring of the organisation. 

The association's "Holiday for Justice" began this morning with the majority of public servants assigned to the country's three High Courts and thirteen Magistrate's Courts not showing up for duty. 

While the move was expected to cripple the organisation, it was only moderately successful as Judiciary instituted contingency plans to ensure that its services were available albeit with longer delays than usual. 

The Magistrate's Courts were the most affected as persons seeking approval for bail or wishing to consult with a justice of the peace having to wait hours to deal with the staff members, who did report for duty. 

Guardian Media understands that in anticipation for the protest, magistrates advised police officers to offer station bail to persons charged over the weekend to allow them to make their first appearance in court on Tuesday or later this week. Persons coming to court to pay fines were not majorly affected as contract staff members were reassigned to ensure the courts' cashier service was available. 

Those cases that were listed had to be rescheduled as there was no support staff to supply magistrates with case files and process documents. 

There was a similar high absentee rate at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain where there was skeleton staff in the High Court and Appeal Court registries and in the Probate Department. 

The absenteeism did not affect many cases as several judges had rescheduled their case in anticipation of the protest. The judges that did decide to sit were assisted by a handful of marshalls and other support staff, who were present. 

Speaking a press conference at PSA's headquarters at Abercromby Street in Port-of-Spain, this morning, PSA President Watson Duke described the initiative as a success. 

"Justice is not only under threat by Chief Justice Ivor Archie and those who are challenging him. It is now challenged by the workers," Duke said. 

He also dismissed concerns over workers facing repercussions over participating in the protest. 

"They (The Judiciary) could do what the hell they want. We would do what we have to do," Duke said, as he slammed his desk. 

Duke said the PSA is calling on Judiciary staff to repeat the protest tomorrow.

About the protest

Many of the work­ers are con­cerned they may be out of the job by Sep­tem­ber 1, when the court adopts the new court sys­tem as guid­ed by The Crim­i­nal Di­vi­sion and Dis­trict Crim­i­nal and Traf­fic Courts Bill, 2018.

Un­der the amend­ment, sev­er­al jobs will be made re­dun­dant, while oth­er ju­di­cial of­fi­cers in­clud­ing clerks of the peace will be asked to reap­ply for their jobs. Sev­er­al work­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly those with years of ser­vice fear that they would lose all their ben­e­fits earned through long years of ser­vice in the process.

Speaking with Guardian Media, last week, Pro­to­col and In­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer of the Ju­di­cia­ry Carl Fran­cis said it was sim­ply "not true" that the work­ers would be los­ing their jobs.

Fran­cis con­firmed, how­ev­er, work­ers who were pre­vi­ous per­ma­nent staff would be shift­ed to a con­tract sys­tem, how­ev­er, he as­sured that mea­sures would be put in place to re­tain their ben­e­fits of tenure.

Those who refuse contract employment or do not qualify will be reassigned to other departments within the public service. 

 -by Derek Achong

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