By Elesha George
More than 50 employees who work from the General Post Office (GPO) building will be relocated while technicians in the Public Works Department undertake renovation work on the premises.
Joann Peters, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPA), told Observer that the decision was made following a meeting with the ministries of Finance and Public Works, Customs and Excise Department representatives, and the two unions – Antigua Trades and Labour Union, and the ABPSA.
“They’re looking at the old airport, they’re looking at the new Treasury building because apparently they have a floor that they are not using there and some part where they say Immigration was,” she explained.
“Hopefully once everything goes as planned we will have a walk-through of the area on Monday,” Peters added, optimistic that the employees could resume work next Tuesday.
Last week, union representatives advised their workers to remain home after a trough system that caused island-wide flooding sullied the working environment, resulting in mold on the wall and a leaking roof which the government had promised to repair over a year ago. Workers held several protests regarding their poor working conditions.
In response to the workers’ actions, on Wednesday the government deployed a detachment from the Defence Force to occupy and operate the GPO, citing that it was one of a few government entities that is still collecting revenue during the Covid pandemic.
That plan has since been suspended while roof repairs and deep cleaning take place, according to Peters.
“They say they are going to withdraw them so I hope they do so,” she said, adding that the working conditions are untenable for any employee to work in.
Public Works Minister Lennox Weston said the repairs will likely take between six and eight weeks to complete.
Cabinet spokesman, Minister Melford Nicholas, described the escalation as an “irregular development’, saying the prime minister should have been brought in beforehand.
“He [Prime Minister Gaston Browne] bemoaned the fact that he was not brought into escalation and that the idea of shutting down an essential service – one that is generating revenue for the government was presumptuous in the first instance,” he told media on Thursday.
The government, Nicholas said, would have preferred that the escalation process firstly led to providing a limited degree of service and not a completed shutdown of the GPO.
He also chastised the union for advising the employees to stay home without the agreement of the Ministry of Labour which, he said, must agree that the conditions are too substandard for people to work in.
“Unions by themselves cannot make those decisions; they would normally need to get the support of the Ministry of Labour. And the Ministry of Labour could, notwithstanding the essential services regulations, close any organisation down on the basis of health and safety for the workers,” he explained.
Peters told Observer however that the issues with the post office are not new and that they wrote to the government as early as October 6 this year.