Employers are to be partly blamed for the low productivity levels in the country says the National Trade Union Centre’s new president James Lambert.
He said the economic system is a complex one with different sectors and players and each one has to play its role at different levels of the production process to ensure maximum efficiency.
“The National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) represents many workers in the private sector like Carib, Berger, Bestcrete and workers from many more private companies. Unions cannot be held culpable for the low levels of productivity in this country. The system creates the problem and then, to a large extent, it is a managerial problem. All actors must take collective responsibility.”
Lambert said managers and owners of industry must take responsibility as they play a big part in the production and wealth creation process.
“We hold the view that managers, supervisors and the employers help create the problem of low productivity. They are not producing as they ought to be. In the production process they are responsible for what goes on. In the collective agreements, there are mechanisms that give rise to productivity. You would see hours of work on a timely basis. There are categories of work to be done on a task system and measurement of what is a day’s work. At every collective agreement, you would see unions speaking about productivity,” he said.
He said it the job of management to execute the collective agreements.
“If a daily rated worker left work at 9 am, where are the supervisors, what did they do?
“If a worker has a task to complete, there are measurements within the collective agreement that ensure the work is completed as a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. The union is not supposed to be there to tell the worker to do his job. That is for managers to do. The managers are the ones to implement and execute the collective agreements, but it does not happen,” he said.
He gave a specific example of how bureaucracy in the state sector causes inefficiency and low productivity on projects.
“In the public sector, there must be the requisition for materials and this must be signed by a CEO or superintendent. After this is done, when they assemble the teams to do excavation work for a 30-foot wall. When it is completed they still must wait for the material. The Government has contracts with certain dealers for materials but, in some instances, when they go for material there is none, then the requisition was not signed or the CEO was not there. Yet the public would see these teams of government workers on the road waiting for materials to construct the wall. But the cement comes today and they have to wait another day for the sand and a third day for the tools. It is a systemic problem,” he said.
To deal with this complex problem, he said all the important actors in the system must have dialogue.
“We need a tripartite arrangement where the unions, government and business discuss these issues. I am not certain that the Productivity Council is as active as it should be. I am appealing to the Government to do this in order to improve productivity and for it to impact on economic growth.The country will not be able to go forward as aggressively as it would like if this tripartite committee does not come into fruition,” he said.
Lambert, who is also president of NUGFW, spoke to the Guardian on Monday at NUGFW’s head office, Henry Street, Port-of-Spain.
He was elected last Saturday and will serve as Natuc’s President for the next two years. Lambert replaced Michael Annisette who is the President General of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union (SWWTU).
As Natuc’s new president, Lambert wants to forge constructive partnerships with the different business and employers’ associations.
“I happen to know the chairman of the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA). When he worked at Carib, we had a relationship with him, as NUGFW has collective bargaining units there. I intend to write and meet him and have a working relationship with him,” he said.
Lambert said unions and businesses working for different objectives will not benefit the economic environment.
“The growth of the country depends on how we operate. If we continue to operate separately, as we are presently doing, it takes a longer period to meet the challenge we face. The greatest investment we can make is our human resources. Unions working with businesses are supposed to benefit people. We must formulate plans and work together,” he said.
He said one of the trade union movement’s biggest concerns is the role of the chief personnel officer (CPO) in the collective bargaining process with the State, the country’s biggest employer.
“The CPO is still deemed to be the employer but they are a hindrance to collective bargaining. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) should be amended in this regard so that collective bargaining could be done by the respective ministries. The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) was under the CPO, but now they have a board. The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) was under the CPO, but now they have their own autonomy. But we still have collective bargaining for central and local government under the CPO.”
He called the CPO’s office clueless.
“The CPO does not have a clue about what goes on in the workplace and yet they sit and negotiate workers’ wages. I am not saying to dissolve the office of the CPO but some mechanism must be put in place where those ministries do their negotiations and then the CPO can serve as a co-ordinator.”
Lambert also spoke about amending legislation to have bargaining units so unions could be recognised more easily.
“There is the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board (RRCB) of which trade unions are at a disadvantage in gaining recognition for any new bargaining unit they have applied for. There is no equity between employers and unions in applying. The employer has the advantage as what is being asked from the union is not being asked by the employer.”
Natuc will be having a meeting with the Minister of Labour Errol McLeod soon.
“Right now there is an advisory committee that was formed by Ministry of Labour relative to those amendments. There are representatives of unions on the committee. Natuc will write to the Minister of Labour concerning the RRCB and role of the CPO,” he said.
Trade union unity
Lambert believes that trade union unity is important to help support a peaceful industrial relations climate.
“We must ensure unity among the leaders. It is the most difficult thing to have. Natuc is the recognised federation for trade unions by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). There are 15 trade unions in Natuc.”
He said the concept of the Joint Trade Union leaders came about when the union movement sought unity in 2010 to deal with the issue of government giving five per cent across the board to all public sector unions.
“There is no need for the Joint Trade Union Movement as there is Natuc, the federation, that ought to see after the affiliates. There is no need for affiliates of Natuc to continue to attend meetings of the Joint Trade Union Movement as Natuc is responsible for these matters.”
A relationship with the Federation of Independent trade unions (Fitun) is possible.
“I am not ruling out having a relationship with them but it must be on common ground.”
Speaking about the march last Friday, he said unions must represent the interest of workers but without appearing to be political.
“Trade unions must not appear to be an opposition party. Trade unions must deal with affairs of workers. Of course, we can make statements on national issues.”