There is major disquiet among staff at the island’s leading response agency, the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). Tobago News was told that several staff members are being told via the fax machine that their contracts would not be renewed. These faxes, which are being delivered on the last day of the respective contracts, are reportedly signed by Chief Administrator Dr. Ellis Burris. More than twenty employees have so far received these letters and those who remain, fear they would be out of a job soon.
In September, 2012, an advertisement highlighting fourteen vacant positions at TEMA was published in both the national and local media. This, according to staff members, was not discussed with them and they were unaware the positions were to be advertised, particularly since most of the positions were already filled. Tobago News understands the decision to advertise the positions, was part of a restructuring plan for the agency which was approved in 2012. According to a source in TEMA, the purpose of the restructuring was to allow for the expansion and strengthening of the agency, through the regularisation of the current staff and the creation of new positions to complete the proposed organisational structure.
After much deliberation, the Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly, met and approved the proposal and gave the “go-ahead” for the restructuring to take effect. It was expected that the current staff would have been given new contracts with revised packages, and interviews would have been conducted to fill the new positions.
Several staff meetings were called to address this issue but acting Director Allan Stewart was unable to shed any light, telling staff, he was unaware of the developments. During that meeting, Stewart was asked to meet with the Chief Secretary and the Director of Human Resources to discuss the issue. He subsequently reported that the Chief Secretary requested some time to gather the facts surrounding the matter before attempting to address the staff. Stewart also told staff at the follow-up meeting, that the Chief Secretary asked that staff refrain from taking any industrial action or speaking with the media.
After one week elapsed without a response from the Chief Secretary, employees delivered a petition his office, outlining their concerns over the issue. London is yet to respond to the petition.
Since then, no contract has been renewed and employees are being told to go home once their contracts expire. Most of the staff members were employed on a short-term contractual basis with the expectation that the proposed restructuring would have allowed for their regularisation.
Contacted on the issue, Public Relations Officer at TEMA, Alex Browne confirmed our reports. He said information has not been forthcoming on the matter. Browne could not say how many people have been affected but noted that those still employed, are employees whose contracts have not yet expired. Tobago News was informed that the Human Resource Department at the Office of the Chief Secretary has commenced interviews to fill the positions at the agency.
The response agency falls directly under the Office of the Chief Secretary; however, when asked to comment on the on-going issue, London referred Tobago New to the Chief Administrator. “That would be rather unfortunate if that is happening,” London told this newspaper. Up to press time, we were unable to contact Dr. Burris.