On behalf of the Alternative Government and the Opposition, I extend warmest greetings and fraternal solidarity to the Labour movement and workers throughout the country who continue to perform an integral role in national development, as we commemorate Labour Day 2017. As we mark this important occasion, I am disappointed with the cruel treatment meted out to workers in Trinidad and Tobago by a callous, brutal and uncaring Rowley administration manifested in the closures of several private and public sector companies and the retrenchment and dismissal of tens of thousands of workers.
This year the Trade Union movement marks 80 years of advocating for workers’ rights in Trinidad and Tobago, and we applaud their many accomplishments with regard to improving working and living conditions for workers. However, in spite of the progress made, 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 an inept and incompetent Government that has failed its citizens, and who have absolutely no strategy or plan to deal with the critical and fundamental issues that face us.
In order for Trinidad and Tobago to become globally competitive, the development of our human resource capital is crucial. This Rowley administration has shown, however, that people are not a priority. The Rowley-led Government continues to disregard the needs of citizens, and has presided over massive job cuts in the public sector, loss of business and investor confidence, and an economy that has experienced its sharpest decline in three decades.
In the 20 months since the Rowley-led Government came into office, it is estimated that more than 25,000 persons have lost their jobs and income. In addition to growing unemployment and underemployment, severe cuts to social services has worsened conditions for many citizens. Further, the Government’s move to increase taxes and the rush to implement the draconian property tax will add to the increasing burden of workers and their families.
Added to this, rising crime levels are affecting business and investor confidence, and we are seeing a worrying development where business people are targets for criminals. The Government has failed to provide a safe and secure environment for citizens, and is yet to put forward a single initiative or measure aimed at reducing crime in our country.
The Government which I led had a plan to continue our thrust of people-centred development, by diversifying the country’s economy, creating sustainable jobs in new industries, and improving the standard of living for all citizens. Our focus was on improving the distribution of wealth through cross-country, multi-industry diversification, and by building a shareholding democracy. Our growth pole strategy of economic development in the seven clusters for diversification was aimed at ensuring that job opportunities and economic activities are not concentrated in just one area of the country or one industry, but dispersed nationwide, allowing for a deeper level of economic participation for our workforce.
After 20 months of a Rowley Government, the time for talk is over – the country requires action. With regard to the issues affecting workers, I reiterate my party’s call for a complete and comprehensive revision of the Industrial Relations Act, the development of a comprehensive Labour Code, an enhancement and upgrading of the Occupation Safety and Health Act, amendments to the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act, upgrading the Maternity Act, as well as working towards the establishment of a living wage for the unorganized Labour force, and the establishment of an Unemployment Insurance Fund. Urgent amendments to the Registration Recognition and Certification Board are also required to speed up the recognition of Trade Unions.
This Labour Day, I take the opportunity to recognize the efforts and contributions of the working class and ordinary people of this country who have toiled in the fields, factories, industries and the various services sectors to advance the interests of the nation. May I take this opportunity to encourage them to recommit to the construction and development of our great nation on the basis of justice, equality and humanity.
On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the modern Trade Union Movement, my Party and I salute the working class and ordinary people on their rich and meaningful contribution to the development of our great nation.
I extend Labour Day Greetings to all.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP