Calls for an official investigation into the abrupt dismissal of employees at the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate-General in New York; allegations of racial discrimination in the diplomatic office and appeals by fired workers for their unpaid salaries and compensation.
The calls for the official inquiry have come from Trinidadians in New York City and Paula Gopee-Scoon, a former Foreign Minister of the twin-island Republic and Reginald Dumas, a former head of the Trinidad and Tobago civil service while allegations of racism by some of the dismissed employees and people who feel they were unfairly treated. Of the eight clerical officers unceremoniously fired, reportedly by Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolan, the Consul-General, seven were Afro-Trinidadians while Angelina Ramlal, who worked at the consulate for seven years, is of East Indian ancestry.
"What has been created there (in New York) is a very poisonous atmosphere and people are on pins and needles," said Gopee-Scoon who described the turmoil in New York as "unsuitable for a public office" and called on the Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the dismissals.
"Nan Ramgoolan must be removed," demanded Gopee-Scoon.
Some of the employee who lost their jobs have raised questions about unfair labor practices and have turned to the Oilfield Workers Union in Port of Spain to get them back their jobs.
"To be honest, I am very depressed," said Susan Butcher-David, a veteran employee with 12 years' service. "The consulate-general owes me a gratuity that should have been paid at the end of my contract. The whole thing is taking a very hard toll on my family because my husband has lost his job and has been unable to find employment. I was the sole breadwinner in the family and now I am also without employment and the money owed to me by Trinidad and Tobago hasn't been paid. As if that wasn't bad enough, the stress and the strain has caused my blood pressure and blood sugar levels to jump precipitously. We were all dismissed because we were told we didn't pass an examination the details of which they declined to inform us beforehand. We were unable to prepare for it. This is unfair."
In addition to the firings, what has ignited deep suspicions in and out of the Consulate-General is that of the five of the new employees hired as replacements are Indo-Trinidadians with one Black person recruited to fill a slot as a clerical officer, charged three of the former employees.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what's happening," said a worker. "You have seven out of eight who are black pushed through the door and six new people brought in and five of them are of East Indian backgrounds. The ethnic composition of the staff has been radically changed and people have not been told why they were fired except that they failed an exam. They didn't treat us with the courtesy of informing us about the nature of the exam so we could have prepared for it. But they sprang it on us and then informed us months later that we had failed it. That's not right."
Another former employee complained that she too hadn't been paid the money due to her, leaving her in desperate financial straits.
"This is really unfair and unconscionable," said the woman who requested anonymity. "How can you treat people like that? We have given loyal service to our country and we have served at the consulate under different government but before have we seen the office in such turmoil. It all seems so unjust and unnecessary."
Reached at her Wall Street office, the Consul-General declined to confirm or deny the essence of the complaints, saying "I can't comment until after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Port of Spain has made its statement.
"I am prepared to talk about what has happened but only after a statement from the Ministry," she told the Carib News.
Efforts to reach a senior official of the Ministry in the Trinidad and Tobago capital were unsuccessful.
The dismissed workers included, Michael Brathwaite, 23 years on staff until his recent dismissal; Ashton Horsford 18 years; Susan Butcher-David, who worked at the office for a dozen years; Angelina Ramlal, seven; Judy Greaves – five; Cherylann Etienne, three; April Sturgeon – nine months; and Charmaine Anderson Smith – seven months.
"This was all done in a cruel manner, without explanation," said one of them.
Nationals of the twin-island republic who are members of the Diaspora expressed concern about the handling of the situation and the racial overtones.
"The matter should have been handled in a more humane manner," said Richard Maynard. "You just don't dismiss people who have been working for 23, 18, 12, seven and five years without providing a reasonable explanation," he said. "The entire situation has left me worried about where we are heading. There was an obvious lack of compassion and due process and the issue of racism is quite unsettling."
Desmond Chase, a New Jersey resident and head of Hawks International, a leading Trinidadian organization, wasn't caught off-guard by the firings.
"It is important that the local staff be treated as in the past with the respect and tolerance required to ensure a seamless transition whenever our democratic process requires a change of government," said Chase. "From the earliest holder of the position of Consul-General to the current officer, most of them were of East Indian extraction and we never had a problem. Unfortunately, it seems that the ugly head of racism and nepotism has emerged.
"The recent action by the Consul-General in summarily dismissing eight members of the staff to my mind is not only reckless but blatantly insensitive and it would only serve to expose these unfortunate individuals with many years of service to the ordeal of America's rank of 9 per cent unemployed," Chase added. "It would be interesting to find out who their replacements would be. I cannot wait for the investigation."
Reginald Dumas, a highly respected former diplomat who once headed the Trinidad and Tobago public service saw the need for an inquiry, which he said should be conducted by an Inspector of diplomatic missions, a position that was currently vacant.
He inquired if the conditions of service of the workers had changed and if they had were the employees aware of it.
Meanwhile, Neil Parsan, Trinidad and Tobago's Ambassador in Washington, said he was preparing a report on the dismissals and it would be sent to the Ministry in Port of Spain.