By Theresa Goodwin
Staff within the Veterinary and Livestock Division of the Ministry of Agriculture are abandoning threats to strike – at least for now. They had vowed to halt the signing of licenses for the import and export of meat and live animals if a number of pressing matters with their working environment were not addressed.
The 15-plus workers have chosen to instead speak with officials to address 18 grievances which were outlined in a letter leaked to the media some weeks ago. They have also decided against any other form of industrial action until further notice.
Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Tubal Edwards told OBSERVER on Monday that the decision followed a meeting that day with newly appointed Minister of Agriculture Samantha Marshall.
“We were planning to down tools and let our voices be heard but the minister came to our office instead. She spoke to us about some things and a number of issues were addressed before she left the meeting,” Edwards said.
The workers have been clamoring for improved conditions in the workplace, specifically proper bathroom facilities, running water, internet connection, and risk allowance, among other matters.
Other issues raised included salary for medical professionals and staff; no-risk pay or insurance for workers; lack of timely overtime payments; inadequate office facilities; no building maintenance, particularly at the abattoir; no computers for veterinarians; no medical or veterinary equipment; no functional fax machine; no inspection facility at VC Bird International Airport; no proper protective equipment; mouldy building; inadequate transportation for staff; inadequate cold storage for the abattoir; inadequate transport for staff; and only one functioning entrance in the building which they say is a fire hazard.
Agriculture officials were given a deadline of January 27 to resolve the plumbing and water problems and until February 3 to address other outstanding issues.
The workers had threatened to halt the signing of import permits by February 3 after claiming that the government of Antigua and Barbuda is putting the health and notifiable disease-free status of the animals at risk – and, by extension, citizens – by allegedly turning a blind eye to staff’s concerns.
Dr Edwards said prior to the January 27 deadline an initial meeting was held with the minister to highlight some of the most important matters.
A follow-up meeting was held Monday where the staff were able to further articulate their concerns to Marshall.
He said the minister gave the commitment that staff at the Public Works Department would investigate the plumbing issue and carry out repairs.
“The majority of the staff here are females; there is no running water in the building,” Edwards said.
He added that staff were also assured that other grievances would be addressed by the end of the week.
A follow-up meeting will be held next week.
The Veterinary and Livestock Division is the government agency that issues licenses for the importation of animals and animal products into the country. The department also works closely with livestock farmers providing them with relevant assistance.