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Security duties at port may soon be in hands of RSVGPF

Security duties at port may soon be in hands of RSVGPF

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The St Vincent and the Grenadines Port Authority (SVGPA) has commenced discussions with the Commissioner of Police, which could lead to police officers securing this country’s ports, instead of members of the port police.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves confirmed to SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that laying off the port police and placing the management of the security operations at the port under the Commissioner of Police is one option that is being explored, but it is the preferred option.

Gonsalves, who is Minister of National Security, Air and Sea Port Development, said if that option is taken, all the port police officers who are severed would be welcome to apply to the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF).

There are approximately 84 port police employed by the SVGPA — 65 on a permanent basis and 17 or 18 being temporary employees.

While he could not say when a decision would be made, Gonsalves said he agreed with what he saw as a “recommendation” by president of the Public Service Union (PSU) Cools Vanloo, in a local newspaper, that port police should be paid at the same level as regular police.

In that article, headlined “Port Police: ‘We fed up!’”, which was published by The Vincentian on April 26, 2013, Vanloo cited the disparity in pay levels as one of several grievances of the port police. According to the report, other grievances of the port police include unfair dismissals, lack of new uniforms, failure to pay agreed increments and health and safety hazards.

It had been reported that at least 80 per cent of the port’s security personnel did not report for duty on April 12, 2013, as a form of industrial action.

However, Vanloo, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday evening, said he viewed the moves towards disbanding the port police as “union busting”.

“That is union busting, because if the employees would take a legitimate action, and out of that legitimate action, you decide that you are going to abolish all of the jobs — one action. Not even to say a strike running on to two or three weeks, and that is your singular response, to something that is legitimate, then all it amounts to, is busting the union.

“Because as regular police, they cannot be members of a union,” Vanloo said.

However, chairman of the SVGPA Edwin Snagg denies outright that the moves to have the Commissioner fully take over the security of the port have anything to do with whatever industrial action may have been taken by the port police.

“Absolutely not. This is something that has long been in train, in discussion.”

Snagg said the issue of the security of the ports being placed fully in the hands of the Commissioner has been discussed at the level of the Board on many occasions.

“We are concerned with certain security lapses which they have on the port from time to time and we would not want to be blacklisted,” he said.

He pointed to neighbouring countries such as Grenada and St Lucia, where he said the security of the port comes under the police.

“We really think the port should get out of the business of security….This is not a matter that really should be coming under the port, but should be coming under the Commissioner of Police, because it deals with the control of our borders,” the chairman said.

However, Vanloo is of the view that the discussions taking place now are an “over reaction”, which is leading to what he thinks is “punitive action”.

“What you are going to lay off the people for, on the basis of us saying they (the police) are paid more?” he asked.

The union boss said he had drawn attention to the disparity in pay between regular police and the port police, because of the degree to which the port police are exposed to similar risks as the police, and they are not paid for those risks.

He said because of their uniform, which is identical to that of regular police officer, the port police are required to carry out certain functions which are not necessarily those of the port police.

“The police are concerned with law and order. The port police, under the Act, their duty is to protect the property of the port.

“Our contention is that if the port police is to protect the property of the port, then when they leave the port, then they have no further function to perform.”

He said the port police are paid between 15 and 30 per cent below what regular police get and neither are they entitled to the same retirement benefits.

The union president said the PSU has obtained a legal opinion, which says that it was not “really legal” for the port police to be wearing a police uniform, as they are not police officers. Instead they should wear another uniform, as do private security officers or customs guards.

“If you are keeping them in police uniform, pay them like police….Change the uniform and everything changes. If they change the uniform, then the union would not ask for similar wages and benefits. We have accepted the wage levels and so on,” Vanloo said.

Saying other countries have done it, Vanloo said the port could also consider contracting its security services to the PSU.

When asked if the union would be in a position to provide security services to the port, Vanloo responded,

“Let’s sit down and talk about it.”

In terms of benefits the union would be able to provide to its security employees, Vanloo said, if there is a contract with the SVGPA to supply security services, “the price that we charge to provide the service, would obviously carry a benefits element in it, like any other security company.”

Vanloo said by placing the security of the port fully in the hands of the police, government is undertaking additional cost, as they will have to pay the security officers at the level of the police. He also said at a time when government is complaining about the cost of pensions and gratuities, they will be adding to their obligations.

“Because after 10 years, they (police officers) would qualify for a gratuity and after 20 years they would qualify for a gratuity and a pension,” the union president said.

“So, the government can’t be talking about pension reform and the cost of pensions being excessive, when at the same time, turn around and increase the cost of the same pensions.”

Chairman Snagg however told SEARCHLIGHT that the SVGPA will pay the police to provide security services.

He, however, stressed that the discussions with the Commissioner are still in the “teething stages”, with the logistics being worked out.

“But definitely, [this is] the direction in which the port authority will be going,” he said.

Snagg reassured that because the police will need extra manpower, new persons will have to be recruited, and the port police would be given the opportunity to apply.

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