Mass Firings at Trinidad and Tobago Consulate-General

Tony Best | 8/16/2012, 2:57 p.m.

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."