As the term of this Keith Rowley led Government comes to an end, it will be remembered as one of the worst for this country’s working population. Under this administration more than 100,000 jobs have been lost, leaving families struggling to make ends meet.
This year marks the 83rd anniversary of the founding of the modern Trade Union Movement in Trinidad and Tobago. Today, a sombre mood engulfs much of the working class. On Labour Day 2020, workers are undoubtedly reflecting on the major changes to their quality of life, from 2015 to present day.
During the period 2010 to 2015, the Government I led settled one hundred and thirty-five (135) collective agreements and paid out over three billion dollars to workers. More than 56,000 jobs were created, and we managed to keep the cost of living under five percent (5%) within their reach. In addition, we ensured that our streets and communities were safe, and provided access to tertiary level education free of charge to all children. There was hope ringing in the atmosphere which focused on people-centred development and improving the quality of life and standard of living of all.
The change in Government in 2015 has resulted in an overall deterioration in the quality of life of citizens of our twin-island Republic. Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley promised much to the Labour Movement through the signing off the Joint Memorandum of Understanding and their manifesto of 2015 “Let’s Do This Together”, however they failed to deliver on their promises.
The full consequences of the Rowley Government’s failure are yet to be felt, as workers brace for more job losses. The PNM administration’s reckless spending, economic mismanagement, and lack of a plan to restart the economy after Covid-19 are adding to the growing anxiety and uncertainty among the population.
There is a sense of hopelessness among workers. The strength of the Trade Union Movement has been systematically weakened if not destroyed by this PNM regime. As a result, a large percentage of the working class exists on 2014 salaries, not covered by collective agreements, and therefore struggle from pay cheque to pay cheque on minimum wages.
As the country prepares to return to the polls, I assure the citizenry that the party I lead, the United National Congress, has a plan to generate more than 50,000 new, sustainable jobs when we return to office, as outlined in our National Transformation Economic Plan 2020-2025.
We will ensure that workers in Trinidad and Tobago can work and live in a dignified manner, owning their own homes and raising their families in an environment of peace, safety and security. We shall lift workers out of the dependency syndrome. We will create the enabling climate that would allow Trade Unions to grow, flourish and develop and without hindrance carry out their historical role in protecting the rights and freedoms of the workers.
Given that over 100,000 workers have lost their jobs pre and post Covid-19, the UNC will undertake a review. in consultation with all stakeholders, of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act 32 of 1985, to ensure that when companies are declared insolvent, payments of their benefits will be given priority and there will be expeditious disbursements.
The Industrial Relations Act of 1972 was premised on the expeditious settlement of disputes. This has not been achieved. It is time to stop the injustice that the delays have inflicted upon the working class. Consultations with stakeholders will be undertaken in order to remove all impediments to create expeditious access to the institutions provided by the Industrial Relations Act, including but not limited to, the following:
1) arrangements for disputes involving the dismissal of domestic employees to be heard at the Industrial Court in a manner that would not impact the sensitive relationship that exists between the employer and domestic employee
2) allowing the worker through his Union, the choice of going directly to the Industrial Court in disputes involving termination of employment
3) establishment of a specific time frame for judgement on a matter regarding dismissal
4) creating the requirement for an employer to provide justification for the retrenchment of workers before a judge of the Industrial Court prior to the retrenchment
5) allowing public officers access to the Special Tribunal for the review of decisions involving discipline, promotion and transfer.
In the immediate and short term, we intend to use the following administrative measures in order to remove certain impediments to the expeditious settlement of disputes:
1) We will direct/instruct all Ministries, State Agencies and Boards to discontinue raising membership in good standing as a preliminary point in all reports of trade disputes, as well as, objecting to the progress of a dispute on the claim of whether or not an employee is a “ worker” under the Industrial Relations Act;
2) There is a residual post-colonial practice in the public service and at certain state agencies where an employee is suspended pending an investigation of disciplinary charges on significantly reduced pay. Such as act by itself imposes a penalty on the employee without a trial. The injustice is further amplified when the hearing process takes years with the employee receiving half salary. In most instances, the employee is exonerated and reinstated, but he receives no interest on his suspended income. State Agencies who engage in this practice will be directed/instructed to desist from doing so.
My Labour Day message for June 19, 2020 is a message of Hope. We achieved a great deal during 2010 to 2015, and by the Grace of God, before the year is over, we will begin to rebuild the economy that was destroyed by the PNM, and get Trinidad and Tobago working again.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
19th June, 2020