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Friday 21 September 2018
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Explain why you were absent

Vel Lewis, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security.

Two shifts comprising 30 immigration officers assigned to Piarco Airport have been served with letters by Vel Lewis, permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security, asking them to explain their failure to report for work on November 12 last year. The officers are all members of the Public Service Association (PSA).

Some have responded to the letters sent in late November, while others are still seeking the guidance of the PSA before submitting a reply.

A source said yesterday Lewis is expected to take action soon, after consulting attorneys. The source said at least 13 Immigration officers face suspension as a result of the alleged failure to report for duty or to respond to a request to replace staff who did not come to work. Because all the officers are unionised, the ministry is being very careful in how it proceeds, the source said.

On November 12 last year, eight officers failed to tell their supervisor at Piarco that they were not reporting for the 2 pm -10 pm shift, causing what was described as chaos for arriving passengers, who had to wait for hours because of the shortage. Long lines starting from the Immigration counters stretched all the way to the tarmac.

Five of the 15 officers called to say they could not work and supervisors should have called out five others to ensure the maximum strength of 15.

Those supervisors were also expected to receive letters from Lewis asking them to explain why five off-duty officers were not called out.

After the chaos, Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon issued a press release apologising to those affected.

He confirmed receiving a report and said, “Following investigations, anyone found in breach of the Immigration Act will be dealt with accordingly.” On November 13, Dillon said heads would roll. The officers’ absenteeism was being considered a result of a directive from their union.

Two days after the absenteeism, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley condemned the action, saying Government had to borrow to pay public servants, yet these officials were comfortable absenting themselves and caused pain and suffering to the public.

PSA President Watson Duke could not be reached for comment.

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