Tuesday 26 May, 2020

OWTU: T&TEC putting workers at risk

File photo. T&TEC workers conduct repairs on an electricity pole.

File photo. T&TEC workers conduct repairs on an electricity pole.

The Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) is being accused of placing its field workers at risk by prematurely reopening.

The accusation comes from the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) in light of the quarantine of a worker at its North Distribution Centre, Port of Spain, on Sunday.

In a statement on Monday signed by Vice President and OWTU Representative for T&TEC, Peter Burke, the Union said T&TEC has failed to place adequate measures in place to address personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing and COVID-19 safety measures for workers.

The Union accused T&TEC of being callous in its response to workers, claiming that the workers who were exposed were told to self-isolate only after the Union intervened, even as this occurred 30 minutes after the scheduled start of the shift.

The Union dismissed allegations that the workers have been “deliberately congregating, not adhering to protocols and setting up a situation to bolster arguments”.

The Union gave the following account, countering statements made by T&TEC Corporate Communications Manager Annabelle Brasnell:

1. The Commission is in violation of the Temporary Work Arrangement negotiated with the OWTU as they have called out its full workforce without putting proper arrangements in place. 

2. The Commission violated its agreement to concentrate on emergency work only (Emergency work in the context of COVID19 was clearly defined in a meeting held with the Commission on March 25, 2020).

3. Parties agreed to institute a two-shift roster which was designed to drastically lower the risk of infection by cutting in half the number of workers reporting to work at any one time.  This measure would have avoided the overcrowding witnessed on Thursday morning.  Members of the public will recall that at the beginning of the pandemic scare in T&T, some 40 T&TEC workers had to be isolated after coming into contact with persons suspected of contracting the COVID-19 virus.  As a consequence, the Union made a detailed seven point proposal to protect its members.  This proposal was accepted, without change, by the Commission.

4. The Commission failed to provide the necessary PPE for the workers in Arima on Thursday morning, a point totally ignored by Ms. Brasnell.  As a result, the local branch was forced to engage the local management regarding the issuance of PPE and COVID 19 protocols for guiding operations for the duration of the pandemic.  This fact exposes the mischief being propagated by Ms. Brasnell.

5. The PPE and protocols were only issued after the local branch forced the intervention of the Chief Technical Officer who gave instructions for the issuance of same, further exposing Ms. Brasnell’s misinformation.  This means that the Area was always in possession of PPE. 

6. Workers repeated request for adequate and approved PPE was consistently ignored by the Area Manager, who when pressed for COVID-19 protocols, is quoted as saying “We will figure it out as we go along”.  This answer despite the fact that a unilateral policy had been shared with the local Management since April 27, 2020 and was not shared with the local branch until May 14, 2020, after the forced intervention of the Divisional Head.

The Union said it was on this basis that T&TEC has failed to adhere to the Temporary Work Arrangement.

The OWTU said: “They continue to issue substandard PPE (face masks and gloves) where several of these face mask cannot pass a simple candle test.  Further, the union notes that the Commission’s own unilateral precautions are inadequate and have not been shared with staff.” 

It described the response by Brasnell as “a diversionary tactic to deflect attention away from its own failure to make proper arrangements after unilaterally and recklessly ordering the entire field staff back to work.”

The Union accused T&TEC’s Management of refusing to engage with staff and forcing workers to be on the job taking unnecessary risks, in many cases, with substandard PPE.

It accused T&TEC of being irresponsible in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Union noted that it is yet to receive any correspondence on the incident.

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