Agriculture Extension workers strike for better conditions

Disgruntled workers at Agriculture Extension Division abandoned their desks yesterday morning to protest against unsanitary working conditions.

OBSERVER media arrived on the scene of the protest in front of the office building opposite King George V Grounds shortly after 10 o’clock to find about 17 workers chanting for change, some of them holding placards.

The distraught workers complained about the dilapidated conditions of the building that houses the Agricultural Extension Division and broken and inadequate complement of furniture. Poor bathroom conditions and mould were also major problems the government workers claimed they face daily.

“It has been like this for a while, but…. last week my skin started to break out with these red bumps,”  one worker said as she showed her arms, which were covered with bumps. “I went to the doctor and they said it was because of the mould in the building and because I keep coming to work they are not going away.”

She added: “The conditions are very poor; very deplorable. We don’t need to be in here; we have written to the permanent secretary, public works, many different places and we just need change. This is not any place for us to be in.”

Another worker said: “Where I sit there is a water bottle that is cut, and when it rains the water comes through the roof, and I cannot sit at my desk. There is mould just behind of me on the wall. The Antigua Trades and Labour Union (ATLU) personnel came in and advised us not to sit in that room as it is mouldy.”

She added that the toilets are not firmly attached to the floors and there are broken tiles throughout the building as well as broken chairs and desks.  “These are no conditions for workers to work efficiently and effectively in,” she highlighted.

“From since 2012 letters were written to public works, ministry of agriculture and the permanent secretary. From what you are seeing now, if anything was done we would not have been out here. The conditions are getting worse.”

Yet another worker complained: “I get sore throat all the time … it’s hazardous …. I studied nursing, and I have to be looking out for everyone here. I have to stand up with my fellow co-workers. It is not fair to us to come every day to be sick.”

A worker of 12 years explained that just last week an elderly farmer came with a walking stick as a customer, and she tripped and almost fell. “We have these elderly farmers that come from time to time and we have to look out for them also.”

The worker reiterated that several verbal and written complaints have been sent to officials, who have power to make changes, but the complaints seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. The workers insisted that they are determined to have changes done in the short term.

Observer media subsequently contacted the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association, Joan Peters, who said: “My stance is that the workers need to leave the building all together.”

She added that the building is just not good and that the government needs to find somewhere to relocate the division.

“The place is just horrible, even if that place is going to renovate, it can’t renovate with anyone in there with how it is… a relocation is the best,” she added.

 “A dog should not be in there much less human beings,” Peters said. “The inside of the building is even worse than the outside.”

Peters disclosed that although 17 workers are in office, an additional 13 still have to come into the office periodically. According to her, all the workers did not strike because some are new, so they just “stood off,” others are sick or on vacation. She explained that the conditions, however, do not affect and bother all.

Peters said that the supervisor was to meet with the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday and based on the outcome of that meeting the workers may or may not continue strike action.

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