Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke who has been on no-pay leave at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) for 11 years, yesterday challenged the authority’s executive director Dr Lennox Sealy to fire him from the state-owned authority.
The move followed a letter Sealy sent to Duke last month informing him of his “untenable nature of the indefinite time off” from WASA “for union’s business” and requested a decision in writing relative to his continued employment by March 26.
Duke, who holds the position of Assistant Manager, Employee Resourcing at WASA, failed to respond to Sealy’s request.
He was promoted to this position in 2012 while on no-pay leave, which has spanned the period November 2009 to December 2020.
Guardian Media was told that the outcome of the PSA’s national elections held on December 14, 2020, would require that Duke’s no pay leave period be extended for a further four years – up to December 2024.
This would result in a total leave period of 15 years.
WASA granted approval for full time off without pay consistent with Article 37 of the subsisting collective agreement between WASA and the PSA from November 2009 to December 14, 2020.
Sealy in a March 9 letter informed Duke that this arrangement cannot continue “indefinitely due to its untenable nature” and recommended that he assessed his current position.
In an April 14 letter, Sealy reminded Duke that “accordingly, the authority places its position on record that your continued employment with the PSA is not in the best interest of the authority. Furthermore, your current portfolio as Minority of Leader of the Tobago House of Assembly is a conflict of interest base on the Civil Service Act of Trinidad and Tobago Chapter 23:01, Section (10) (1).”
Sealy asked Duke to respond in writing by Wednesday April 21 “to bring this matter to a close as failure to do so will result in the termination of our employment.”
Yesterday, Duke took to his Facebook page to vent his feelings on the issue and to attack Sealy and Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales.
Urging WASA’s 5,000 workers to prepare themselves for battle, Duke said he will not cower or bow out of this fight.
Duke took umbrage to Gonzales’ statement that the three unions representing WASA workers are involved in an incestuous relationship with management.
Insisting that the State-owned organisation has been made a political football, Duke said today the PNM wants to pull the unions’ membership apart.
“And it is my intention in this message to say to all WASA employees along with the management that you have nothing to fear. Do not fear one single thing because we have a plan. We will take the breath out of WASA. We will cause WASA to pause for a cause. We are not playing games. We have this well worked out…well mapped out.”
Responding to Sealy’s letter, Duke said WASA is threatening to terminate him because he “wrote for time off based on our collective agreement which is a registered court order.”
Duke said once you apply for leave after an election, you get leave automatically.
“It is not up for discussion. So I applied after election (THA) last January. I request my full time off to continue my work.”
Duke said he is employed in the PSA and not at WASA.
“I am on no-pay leave.”
Training his guns on Sealy, Duke said “if you think you are man, you fire me. If you think you mad and crazy Lennox Sealy, you fire me on Wednesday I am not responding to your letter.”
Duke warned Sealy that he has already instructed his lawyers to bring criminal charges against him.
“What you are doing is engaging in what is called victimising the trade unions and I want to put it out there that there are laws protecting workers…that Lennox Sealy cannot do what he thinks he wants to do,” Duke said.
In an immediate response, Gonzales said what Sealy and his team are doing is consistent with Government’s policy to transform WASA.
“And in so doing initiate a new culture of productivity, transparency and corporate governance in WASA. The situation concerning Watson Duke being on no-pay leave since 2009 is very much consistent and the fact that previous management failed to take action to protect the interest of the authority and the people of T&T is evident of the madness that took place at WASA over the last decade.”
Gonzales said Duke has his right to react and respond however he wishes.
“But his reaction will not prevent the transformation that is needed in WASA in order for citizens to get a reliable water supply in their taps.”