PSA member accuses executive of irregularities

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Duaine Hewitt –

Public Services Association (PSA) Industrial Court Section chairman Duaine Hewitt is accusing the executive of the PSA of breaching the union’s constitution to extend the retirement age beyond 60 to allow the current president to remain in his position. He said this was only one of several irregularities which took place at a virtual special ordinary meeting of the union’s general council on Wednesday.

Hewitt is one of five PSA members who were granted an injunction by Justice Frank Seepersad on December 21 blocking the executive from holding a general council meeting and also freezing its bank accounts. The other members are Curtis Cuffie, Demetrius Harrison, Annisha Persad, and Curtis Meade.

In his decision, Seepersad said the special ordinary meeting could be held on Wednesday and gave certain topics which could be discussed at the meeting, including the outlining the administrative steps to be taken to facilitate overdue section elections and for the approval of the requisite budgeting allocations to enable the conduct of these elections.

Hewitt said the topics outlined in the judgement were used by the president and first vice-president to create the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting without consulting with the union’s general secretary Ria Ralph-Watson, who confirmed that this had occurred in breach of the union’s constitution.

“When I brought it up at the meeting, the president sidestepped it and made a rebuttal that the court ordered it, but at the end of the day what I was reminding the president and the executive is that any order given by the court must harmonise with the PSA’s constitution.”

Hewitt said the proposal for the amendment to the constitution to allow the president to continue in his position past the retirement age of 60 years was made even though it was not mentioned in the agenda or the judge’s order.

“Justice Seepersad told them in its order that if there is any discussion in relation to filling the vacancies, that should be done as a side suggestion, that if there is any discussion in relation to filling vacancies, such should be done on an interim/acting basis given that the council is under-represented and not properly constituted. The proposal was passed at the council level and the conference usually acts on the advice of the council.”

Hewitt accused the executive of suppressing the voices of those who spoke out against the proposal during the virtual meeting.

“How can you hold a meeting virtually to elect people and amend the constitution, when the executive is controlling the meeting? They have an interest in the meeting, they are controlling who can have access, who can and can’t come into the meeting, who you’re allowing to speak and who you’re not allowing to speak.

“And in the midst of the meeting, while general council members were attempting to comment and raising their hands, they’re ignoring those people and when you were actually given the opportunity to speak, they’re muting your mic and blocking you from speaking.

“In effect, they are abusing the virtual meeting, and refusing to hold physical meetings.”

He noted that both the council and the conference were not representative of the union’s membership, as only 22 sections/branches were represented on the council, with 109 being unrepresented. It was for this reason that the issue of section elections was to be discussed at the meeting.

“They came with the budget and literally refused to answer questions in relation to the budget for the section elections. They refused to answer questions with regard to the methodology for the section elections, because they want to set up polling stations and all kinds of things, and you know once you talk about polling stations, the issue of transparency, fairness and democracy comes into play. They refused to have any discussions around those things.”

Hewitt said the membership should not allow the executive to circumvent the constitution. He noted it was hypocritical for the executive to try to extend the retirement age beyond 60 when it was actively fighting the government to prevent it from doing the same thing.

Multiple attempts to reach PSA president Leroy Baptiste proved unsuccessful.