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Need a Passport in Trinidad and Tobago? Thanks to a Labour Fracas, You Can't Have One

On Facebook, Ava Camille posted: Revisited the office again this morning ..... we are told by a security officer that no one is allowed entry, the building is locked up. Numerous people waiting in hope that they can collect their passports to travel from as soon as tomorrow.... I feel really sad for them, it gonna cost $$ to change flights etc.

Photo of the San Fernando passport office posted on the Facebook discussion group BREAKING NEWS T&T

Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are now unable to renew expired and expiring passports or apply for new ones to leave the country, thanks to an ongoing row between the government and a trade union for public employees.

Since April 2014, walkouts organized by the Public Services Association crippled the country's immigration services, resulting in a total collapse of the passport offices. On 26 June, 2014, the office producing passports was closed indefinitely, grinding the system to a halt. The association says the working conditions are too poor for employees. 

Inaction by the government has fueled public frustration over the shutdown of what is widely considered to be an essential service. Many have been forced to cancel flights, paying hefty penalties to airlines in the process, because they are unable to obtain a passport. People requiring medical treatment abroad have also been affected.

On social media, affected citizens have been sounding off on the issue. Ava Camille posted in the Facebook discussion group ‘Breaking News T&T’ that she found the gates at the passport office in San Fernando locked. She said she applied five weeks ago for a renewal, and her passport is now expired:

why can't our renewed pports be sent to open offices to be collected? …. don't be suffering people like this… folks have planned their vacations, booked hotels etc… and either have to postpone or cancel. Either way costing us hard earned $$$$. 

Others commented on the government's deafening silence on the crisis and the possible effect the passport crisis could have on next year's elections. Patsy D'Arcy noted:

Same with Land and Building office POS, for weeks now,And this government want a second Term? They are all living in La La Land.Or too busy doing other things?

Public Services Association President Watson Duke has defended the walkouts as necessary to get the government's attention. “We have been suffering for too long in the worst conditions in the work and asked to produce the best. We are tired of subsidising the cost of labour in this country for the Government and for the employer”, he told Trinidad Express Newspapers

On Facebook, Christopher Mohammed sympathized with the trade union: ”People have to understand if [you were] working in those conditions [you] all would have fle[d] the same way.”

But a large amount of public anger has fallen on the union. Like many others, Bridget Andrews accused Duke of ‘holding the country random':

Why is Watson Duke being allowed to hold the country to ransom, he is now threatening to close down the airport. He feels he is the most powerful person in Trinidad (apart from Ancil Roget!!!) Why not move the Immigration Office to that empty building on Tragarete Road which is unoccupied and costing millions in rent.

Sian Faye also questioned why relocation was not contemplated:

Can't they set up elsewhere temporarily if they really hav issues which may result in imminent danger? We don't kno the power we hold….i hope their salaries are also suspended until further notice…..

Some have defended the government and remain hopeful that politicians will intervene, like San Dy: “I am sure there is not always an easy solution to our problems. Some problems require more delicate attention and strategic care in order to be rid off permanently.”

Netizens have also taken to Twitter to express their disgust and frustration at the situation:

With the annual summer school vacation beginning on 5 July, 2014, in Trinidad and Tobago, citizens are waiting in hope for a resolution to this emergency.

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