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Employee woes go unheeded at T & T Consulate

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Employees at the Trinidad and Tobago consulate in New York (a goodly number of them, anyway) have been living a nightmare since the current consul general, Nan Ramgoolam, assumed the position in 2011. In having the New York consulate headed by Ramgoolam, the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar abandoned a long-standing policy of career diplomats filling such posts. Ramgoolam, formerly a member of Bissessar’s cabinet, had been shuffled out of her cabinet slot relatively early in the life of the Bissessar government. And as if to validate concerns about political hacks being assigned to professional foreign service duty, it has become increasingly clear to many that operations at the New York consulate are being driven by naked partisan considerations.

In a series of draconian moves, Ramgoolam, presumably doing the bidding of superiors, initiated regressive changes that made the consulate more reminiscent of a 1920s workplace. In 2012, eight staffers, including long-serving individuals (10, 15 and more years on the job) were summarily terminated. This was action ostensibly arising from a first-of-its-kind exam mandated for the staff, the exam’s fair-mindedness very much questioned both internally by staff as well as outside observers. Workers (some of whom, again, were long-serving members of staff), whose original permanent status had earlier been amended to two-year-contract service providers, had another change in status imposed, namely, new contractual arrangements of six months duration. Unlike the two-year deal, the new contract was stripped bare of even minimal workplace entitlements. In order to be renewed, the six-month contract requires the employee/contractor to be off the job for one week without pay at the end of the six- month tour, thence to re-apply for the “vacated” position. There is also no provision in this contract for paid absences from the job for medical or any other reasons.

This is of course stone-age behavior to which the consulate employees are being subjected. It would be bad enough, were this to be explained simply as the conduct of a renegade employer, unconcerned about basic standards that should govern the labor-management relationship. Infinitely worse is that appearances strongly suggest a more sinister origination of the Trinidad and Tobago government’s unloading on these besieged consulate staffers.

The foreign affairs minister when the Bissessar government assumed office in 2010 was Suruj Rambachan. Rambachan’s track record has had him widely pegged as uncompromisingly racist for quite a while now. His undertaking to the consulate staff back when he came aboard, that he intended to “change the face” of the consulate, many believe, is what’s being borne out in the rash of autocratic operational “reforms” introduced at the consulate.

Any objective look at the narrative since Ramgoolam’s arrival makes it difficult to refute suggestions of some kind of orchestrated purge at the consulate. Apart from what reportedly was an intimidating presence she immediately imposed, making for a tension-filled working environment, Ramgoolam is thought by some to have conceived or been party to subterfuge attempts aimed at facilitating the darker “purge” objective. The aforementioned written examination laid on staff in summer 2012 was one such. More recently, there’s been a furor over employees holding A-2 visas issued by the U.S. State Department. Although this is well known to be a long existing practice through which individuals who aren’t U.S. citizens or permanent residents are permitted to work, consulate staff so classified have been advised that their visas would not be submitted for renewal. Reportedly, despite a green light coming from the permanent secretary in the foreign affairs ministry – the nominal head of the foreign service -- for the visa renewal routine to proceed as normal, another government figure, attorney general Anand Ramlogan, weighed in to declare that holders of A-2 visas should no longer be employed. Ramlogan’s edict, intimating something inappropriate or unlawful about such hires, has been roundly challenged and indeed dismissed as groundless. Our own checking, elsewhere in the legation community, brought the same reaction of perfectly legitimate hiring practice with respect to A-2 visa holders.

A member of the Bissessar government summoning the chutzpah to override the U.S. take on what is and isn’t permissible on a U.S.-issued visa, if that’s what went down here, would be a laugh-provoking absurdity, had the end game not involved trifling with the welfare of defenseless workers. That there’s been a deliberate campaign of degradation directed at consulate employees whose tenure pre-dates Ramgoolam’s arrival seems at this point entirely plausible.

In which case the goings-on at the consulate should elicit a reaction of: “There they go again!” The government of Prime Minister Bissessar has so often now displayed a cavalier attitude toward episodes of wrongdoing, it has become practically a defining administration marker. Although she evidently wasn’t a blazing success as a government minister and had to be soon sent packing, the scuttlebutt is that Consul General Ramgoolam has parlayed supposedly close ties to Bissessar into license for a “loose cannon” manner of handling consulate affairs.

But more troubling, for sure, than Ramgoolam enjoying cronyism privileges that permit running roughshod over folks in the government’s employ, is whether, as many suggest, turbulence in the New York outpost has directly to do with marching orders to purge the operation (per Suruj Rambachan’s “changed face”) of perceived political non-support. Now, that would be scandalous and would of course be straightaway vociferously denied. But if it walks like a duck…

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Stephen Kangal from Trinidad and Tobago says:
How is applying for an A2 Visa Breaking US Law?
By
Stephen Kangal
Foreign Minister, the Honourable Winston Dookeran posits that were the T&T Consulate in New York to continue to apply to the State Department for the granting of an A2 US Visa on behalf of a member of its locally recruited staff (LRS), that would “ breaking US law…” Well the Consulate under different regimes in POS has been applying and the State Department has been granting these A2 visas or variations of stays to it and many other foreign consulate accredited to the State of New York..
Is the State Department guilty of and encouraging the violation of its own US law according to the the GORTT and Minister Dookeran?
Is this not a very damaging assertion in Dookeran’s recent Sunday Express Interview by Ria Taitt in more ways than one? Is he interfering in the administration of the immigrations laws/practice of the US Department of State and insinuating incompetence on their part? Does he know these laws better that the creators of these laws? His position in untenable considering it from several established modus operandi.
How is applying for variation of the conditions of stay of a potential LRS in the US having been admitted legitimately wrong when that is the practice among states members of the international community? On his own admission he indicates that the US State Department has never frowned on this practice or protested against it. According to the Minister the GORTT is a better expert at interpreting the immigration laws of the US than the US itself.
The PPG appears to have no diasporic policy position when it can decant its citizens unto the cold streets of New York without any compunctions visitings of nature and nurture. It is taking adversarial politics unto the foreign setting where all ah we is and should be one-Trinbagonians irrespective of ethnicity and political persuasions.
Being the line Minister Mr. Dookeran has not considered the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that upholds the principle of extra-territoriality and the inviolability of each diplomatic mission that is in fact a state-within- a –state since the laws of the receiving state do not have legal tender within the mission, official residence and residences of diplomatic agents.. Having said this all diplomats are expected not to violate the laws of the receiving state. In the conduct of diplomatic relations the Vienna Convention takes precedence over the laws of the US.
What has in fact been taking place in the Big Apple since the advent of demoted Minister, Nan Ramgoolam and for which several facades have been concocted is a form of political cleansing of the Staff of this Mission. This includes the infamous internal examination unilaterally instituted and inflicted by Consul-General Nan Ramgoolam to victimize those long-serving staff members who constitute part of our diaspora and for which the PP has no cohesive policy position. This illegal exam joke was followed by the refusal to apply for the requisite A2 variation of their legitimate stay in the US to continue their employment.
It appears that this conflict with the LRS recruited previously perhaps under the PNM is the main convulsive impulsive of the Consul-General when she should be trying to deliver the more important trade/market opportunities, investment flows and tourism arrivals.
This is a sad day for the reputation and image of the diplomatic service of T&T now in the hands of the inexperienced and the vindictive who are prepared to take the local politics unto the metropolitan centres.
Feb. 3, 2014, 8:51 pm

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