I join with the national community in commemorating the important occasion of Labour Day, as we mark the eighty-second anniversary of the Butler Oilfield Riots and strikes which took place on June 19, 1937 and which witnessed the ushering in of the modern trade union movement. Trade Unions and workers throughout the country continue to perform an integral and critical role in overall national development at a time when our nation is facing significant economic and social challenges.
We are 45 months – almost four years into the term of this PNM Government led by Dr Keith Rowley and this country has seen a consistent betrayal and brutalization of workers in our country. Today we are marking Labour Day in a time of increasing economic uncertainty and are faced with the troubling fact that the country is being led by a plutocratic Government that has failed its citizens, and has no strategy or plan to deal with the issues that confront our nation. We shall continue to press this incompetent PNM Government to come up with a defined plan and strategy aimed at getting our country and economy working again.
Today the people of Trinidad and Tobago are under open assault by an absolutely and hopelessly incompetent Government which has virtually declared war on the working class and masses of ordinary people in favour of the economic elite.
Our nation’s greatest asset – its people – are suffering as a result of this Government’s ineffectiveness. This Keith Rowley-led administration has presided over the loss of some 50,000 jobs, plunging thousands of families into the abyss of poverty, with little hope of future employment. In addition, many of these workers, especially those who were literally dumped on the garbage heap of history as a result of mass layoffs at Petrotrtin, TSTT, and many other industries, remain uncertain about their future.
The Industrial Court is under attack as the government shifts the balance of forces in favour of the employers and at the expense of the working class. There is no longer any balance at the Industrial Court. Recent appointments to the Court by the Government have ensured this shift in favour of the employers.
The PNM has failed to deliver on a single commitment made in the Joint Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Labour Movement prior to September 2015 and their Manifesto.
The National Insurance System (NIS) seems to be in financial trouble with a deafening silence from the Government on the way forward. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency is severely understaffed, and the Government has failed to settle negotiations for public servants and daily rated employees for the period 2013-2015 and 2016-2019. We call on the Government, once again, to shed light on the status of the unions’ call for a pension plan for daily rated workers in Central and Local Government and the Tobago House of Assembly.
The Government recently amended the NIS Act to give migrants from Venezuela the right to work for one year without NIS deductions. This effectively means that employers of these migrants are exempt from paying NIS deductions as well. This poorly thought out policy provides an incentive for employers to hire migrants in favour of local labour. With the NIS is currently facing a crisis of funds, Keith Rowley’s policy wasn’t about helping migrants, but helping his elite friends who are looking for cheap and subsidized labour.
This PNM Government has presided over a collapse in the collective bargaining process and they are yet to state their position on the minimum wage or bring amendments to vital labour legislation which was promised since the closure of Arcelor Mittal and Centrin.
While citizens are struggling to make ends meet, they chose to push forward legislation to enhance their own pensions. Instead of serving the people, they are serving themselves.
The United National Congress (UNC) reiterates its call for sweeping and far-reaching fundamental Labour reform measures, inclusive of a comprehensive revision of the Industrial Relations Act, a comprehensive overhauling of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act inclusive of the establishment of the Severance Fund Regime, a Basic Conditions of Work regime, as well as Sexual Harassment Legislation, among many others under the well-established ILO principles of Tripartism.
I wish to assure citizens that the United National Congress is fully prepared and has a vision and a plan to move Trinidad and Tobago forward. The team which I lead has developed a clear, cogent and focused economic policy that will involve and benefit all citizens.
Our National Economic Transformation Plan will encourage strategic investments in niche non-energy sectors where we have a strong competitive advantage, market opportunity and growth potential.
We have developed 12 key strategic Prosperity Engines spread across communities in Trinidad and in Tobago, which will mobilize and engage the private sector, both local and international, and will have large positive multiplier effects in kickstarting economic recovery, fostering growth and supporting diversification. Through these initiatives, we plan to create 50,000 new jobs.
As we move forward, we will need all hands, minds and hearts to come together and to work towards building a brighter, more prosperous future for our country.
I promise to continue to take the time to consult with you, to listen to your concerns and suggestions for our nation. Over the next few weeks, we will be holding pre-budget consultations, to hear your views and concerns, and I invite all citizens to join us as we prepare to return good governance to our country.