Exclusive by Kadeem Joseph
Police officers are vowing to report to the Police Recreation Grounds every day at 8am until Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the body over longstanding grievances.
Chairman of the Police Welfare Association Rosevelt Browne said officers have grown weary of empty promises and “the deplorable conditions they have had to endure for years”.
Scores of officers met at the facility on Tuesday morning to discuss their grievances and officer Browne told Observer that it was during this meeting that “the members of the association asked the executive to write to the Prime Minister seeking an audience with him” to resolve longstanding issues that include outstanding risk allowances for officers, medical insurance, the limited provision of uniforms and supplies, no running water at stations, and several other matters.
In an address to the body during the afternoon session of the meeting, the chairman informed the officers gathered that a letter had been sent to the PM’s office as requested and he had received a call in response indicating that the PM was busy and there was not enough notice given. He said, however, the body would await the PM’s arrival, which did not materialise yesterday.
While dismissing the gathering at about 3.30pm on Tuesday, the Welfare Association head said, however, that the officers will meet at the ground until they have an audience with the PM.
“We have adjourned our meeting until tomorrow and we intend to have meetings until we see the Prime Minister,” he added, noting that every officer from the rank of inspector down to constable is expected to report to the grounds instead of their regular postings.
The officers are also rejecting a government proposal for the mandatory age of retirement for law enforcement to be increased from 60 to 65 years old.
“They have already passed a law which concerns the gazetted officers, that would be officers from the rank of ASP (assistant superintendent of police) upwards,” he said. “We, the members of the association, do not agree with them… we put it to the members, and they do not agree with it.”
The Welfare chairman said that the executive and its members have been “extremely patient” and are now tired of their grievances being ignored and it is time to take a stand.
Chairman Browne said since the present executive first met with Minister of Public Safety Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin in May 2019, and several meetings and emails later, little has been done to remedy the problems the officers face.
He charged that Benjamin was yet to respond formally to the last letter they sent on May 25 this year.
Last December Benjamin announced that as of 2020, “police officers will be receiving insurance medical policy coverage and also risk allowance…” during an annual Christmas address.
The minister went on to state that an assessment would be done to further upgrade police stations across the country with the assistance of special skilled officers.
“He had initially promised the executive and the members of the association that the risk allowance and the health insurance would have been given to us within the first quarter of 2020. At present, we are approaching the ending of the second quarter and we still have not received the benefits,” he explained.
He is querying the absence of the risk allowance especially since he claimed Benjamin said that the additional money had already been budgeted for.
Browne said the stations are “in a very deplorable state” and the minister has yet to visit to assess their condition as promised.
He added, “This was supposed to be done since January; we are now looking to end of June and to this date the Attorney General has not come to visit any station. Each time he would put it off and we reschedule, on that very same day we would schedule for, that is when he would call and say he has some sort of engagement.”
The chairman said that the members continue to bombard the executive about their working conditions, which he said was understandable since some of the stations are hazardous working environments.
The plight of the force has been well documented with several stations being relocated in recent years due to poor upkeep of the buildings that house them.
The meeting was punctuated with jeers by officers who voiced their dissatisfaction with the status quo.
One officer remarked, “The staff at agriculture get help, CBH get help and loop pan arwe.”
Another added, “Look at the uniforms, look at the hats, look at us on the streets, they are turning purple and all kinds of colours and we can’t get uniforms. No shoes!”
Observer reached out to Minister Benjamin for comment on Tuesday.
He said he is aware of the Police Welfare Association’s concerns after several meetings on the matters plaguing them and the government is prepared to address them, “but at this time of Covid, when salary payments are almost non-existent or that we have to fight to pay salaries, this is the most inopportune time to make those types of demands.”
He said there are discussions with insurance companies to provide medical insurance to not only cover the police but other security agencies within the government’s employ.
“We shall be addressing their concerns, looking at the stations… we will be starting repairs on the police headquarters within the next week,” he added. “We are mindful of their concerns and the government will address them as we go along.”
Benjamin said he was also informed that a letter was delivered to the Prime Minister at 1.36pm for him to meet the association at 1.30pm.
“Clearly that was not acceptable. How can you expect the head of a government to be summoned to a meeting, at a time set by you, which had expired even before you deliver that notice to the Prime Minister,” he said.
The minister said that PM Browne would meet with the body but believes since discussions have already started, the government should attempt to address the issues.
While Benjamin said he was not aware that members of the force are expected back at the Police Recreation Grounds to continue their meeting today at 8am, he said, “Any police officer, at this time of Covid, at this time of hardship, be determined to take this type of action, that is most irresponsible in the circumstances and I am asking that they reconsider the situation.”
The minister said further that the officers should understand the government’s position amid the coronavirus crisis.
“There is a crisis all over the world today, you tell me in which other country around the entire globe have you heard industrial actions being taken by any organisation,” he said. “Businesses are closing, salaries can’t be paid, even health services are affected. Is this the time for actions of that nature?”