Hundreds of public servants working in the Judiciary have heeded the Public Service Association (PSA)'s call to stay away from work in protest of the proposed restructuring of the organisation.
The association's "Holiday for Justice" began this morning with the majority of public servants assigned to the country's three High Courts and thirteen Magistrate's Courts not showing up for duty.
While the move was expected to cripple the organisation, it was only moderately successful as Judiciary instituted contingency plans to ensure that its services were available albeit with longer delays than usual.
The Magistrate's Courts were the most affected as persons seeking approval for bail or wishing to consult with a justice of the peace having to wait hours to deal with the staff members, who did report for duty.
Guardian Media understands that in anticipation for the protest, magistrates advised police officers to offer station bail to persons charged over the weekend to allow them to make their first appearance in court on Tuesday or later this week. Persons coming to court to pay fines were not majorly affected as contract staff members were reassigned to ensure the courts' cashier service was available.
Those cases that were listed had to be rescheduled as there was no support staff to supply magistrates with case files and process documents.
There was a similar high absentee rate at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain where there was skeleton staff in the High Court and Appeal Court registries and in the Probate Department.
The absenteeism did not affect many cases as several judges had rescheduled their case in anticipation of the protest. The judges that did decide to sit were assisted by a handful of marshalls and other support staff, who were present.
Speaking a press conference at PSA's headquarters at Abercromby Street in Port-of-Spain, this morning, PSA President Watson Duke described the initiative as a success.
"Justice is not only under threat by Chief Justice Ivor Archie and those who are challenging him. It is now challenged by the workers," Duke said.
He also dismissed concerns over workers facing repercussions over participating in the protest.
"They (The Judiciary) could do what the hell they want. We would do what we have to do," Duke said, as he slammed his desk.
Duke said the PSA is calling on Judiciary staff to repeat the protest tomorrow.
About the protest
Many of the workers are concerned they may be out of the job by September 1, when the court adopts the new court system as guided by The Criminal Division and District Criminal and Traffic Courts Bill, 2018.
Under the amendment, several jobs will be made redundant, while other judicial officers including clerks of the peace will be asked to reapply for their jobs. Several workers, particularly those with years of service fear that they would lose all their benefits earned through long years of service in the process.
Speaking with Guardian Media, last week, Protocol and Information officer of the Judiciary Carl Francis said it was simply "not true" that the workers would be losing their jobs.
Francis confirmed, however, workers who were previous permanent staff would be shifted to a contract system, however, he assured that measures would be put in place to retain their benefits of tenure.
Those who refuse contract employment or do not qualify will be reassigned to other departments within the public service.
-by Derek Achong