Excitement turned into frustration, disgust and anger for scores of travellers entering Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night as they were forced to wait for hours in long lines at Piarco International Airport before clearing Immigration.
The Express understands that only two out of about 15 immigration officers turned up for duty that night.
This resulted in chaos, as there was a back-up of travellers from several flights which landed that evening.
The situation stemmed from action being taken by immigration officers over the non-payment of outstanding overtime and other allowances.
Earlier this month, immigration officers attached to the airport took a stance against working additional shifts without being paid overtime.
President of the Public Services Association (PSA) Leroy Baptiste explained then that hundreds of positions within the Immigration Division remained vacant, resulting in immigration officers having to work extra hours.
He said some officers had not been paid overtime since 2019 while some “travelling officers” who use their vehicles for work are still waiting for their allowances for 2022.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Baptiste said the situation is yet to be addressed.
He said on Tuesday the union raised the issue of outstanding overtime and allowances for immigration officers when it met with Chief Personnel Officer Dr Daryl Dindial on wage negotiations for public officers.
“He is to get back to me in terms of setting a meeting for us to treat with that. That should be early next week,” he stated.
He added: “Immigration officers have been working for months on end without being paid for these extra hours. What has been taking place is that some workers are deciding that they are not going to be working extra shifts until outstanding claims have been settled.”
“I don’t know what has happened to this administration and I don’t understand why they feel they can continue treating human beings as though they are slaves. Why would they subject their workers to work all kinds of hours and don’t feel they should pay them, and let that run into three years? How do you explain when you leave your family undone, not be with them and then you have nothing to show for it?” he added.
Messed up plans
One traveller, Winnie Greer, told the Express via a Facebook call yesterday that she arrived at the airport on a British Airways flight from London at 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“When I walked in I couldn’t even see the end of the line. It was at 9.30 p.m., when I was in the snake of the queue, when one of the ladies came to me. She saw that I looked really tired and took me, an older lady and another woman who was pregnant to a shorter line to get us through. If I hadn’t done that I would have still been there, possibly until 10.30 p.m., because the line was moving so slowly,” she said.
Greer said among the scores of travellers in lines were families with young babies, who had to resort to sitting on the floor.
“There were two people working at the Immigration booths. After about two hours of queuing they came with some water but didn’t come to everyone. They didn’t get as far as me,” she went on.
Greer said what made the situation more difficult for her was the fact that she was unable to see her mother that night.
“My mom is in a residential care home in Trincity and she was so anxious to see me. I was supposed to go see her straight from the airport. By the time I left it was too late. It messed up everything, ” she said.
Greer said she sympathised with the immigration officers and fully supported their decision to stand up for what is owed to them.
“What the Government has to realise is that in that queue for four or five hours there were new tourists to Trinidad, and this is their first experience of coming into the country. And I spoke to a couple of people and their feeling was they would not come to experience this again. I fully sympathise with the officers as it is simply not fair to them, but what the Government has to understand is the impact that this sort of experience has on people coming to Trinidad,” she said.
|Hinds talks with disgruntled staff
The Ministry of National Security says it is treating with matters raised by immigration officers.
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