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Putting labour at the forefront

ILO, labour minister share views ahead of NTAC meeting
Published: 
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Claudia Coenjaerts, second from right, director of the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean, chats with Dr Ruby Alleyne, left, chairman of the National Training Agency, and Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, right, Minister of Labour, during the International Labour Organisation’s Caribbean conference at Hyatt Regency hotel, Port-of-Spain yesterday. Looking on is Dagmar Walters of the ILO.

Ahead of next Tuesday’s National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) meeting, director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Decent Work Team (DWT) Claudia Coenjaerts said that the Ministry of Labour has a key role to play in bringing the national tripartite constituents together and in engaging in national planning exercises.

This means, she said, when labour policy is crafted the “principles of social dialogue” must be integrated in all policy issues and not just an agenda that omits feedback from key stakeholders.

“The region as a whole understands the role of mechanisms for social dialogue, but we need to see them work harder, to influence policy that puts labour, employment and decent work at the centre. The best decisions are those that are made with both sides of the spectrum.”

Coenjaerts was speaking last Tuesday at the ILO’s breakfast meeting titled, “Getting Ready for the Future of Work,” which was held at the Hyatt Regency hotel, Dock Road, Port-of-Spain.

Referring to trends in the labour market, Coenjaerts said they were showing that there is an increase in temporary employment and that trend cannot be controlled.

She cautioned that temporary or non-standard employment should not be allowed to infringe the rights of the ordinary person.

“We cannot let it erode basic rights and protection. Instead, we should mobilise with the tripartite call, for modern, sound, balanced and well-enforced employment protective legislation.”

With temporary or non-standard employment Coenjaerts said the individual should be allowed to make the transition from one job to the next and, at the same time, it should not interfere with the company’s competitive edge.

“In Europe, they have introduced “flexicurity” where there is a balance between providing an environment that is competitive while making sure transitions people have to make to new jobs are supported and facilitated and that is where we may be able to find that balance in the fast changing world.”

She said in Jamaica, Guyana and now in T&T, the ILO had helped to set up co-operatives, and has supported unions in Barbados as well as Antigua and Barbuda to incorporate the needs of domestic workers more appropriately.

“We developed the standard contract for domestic workers and we hope we could continue to work with what we have established as a Network of Caribbean Domestic Workers Organisations or those who represent domestic workers.”

ILO has also worked with Ministry’s of Labour to take a more strategic approach to labour inspection.

Labour Minister speaks

Asked what are some of the trends in the labour sector she has seen for 2017, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said, as a country, there is need to focus on increasing productivity levels.

According to Baptiste-Primus, this means there must be a “symbiotic relationship between regularity, punctuality and the quality of work of each one of us.”

Baptiste-Primus said she was confident that T&T could improve its productivity levels.

Referring to the issue of absenteeism, she suggested that there must be a programme/training for motivating employees in order to recognise their value and worth.

“Most times workers are not told how important they are in the whole machinery of the organisation or the Ministry.”

Addressing the issue of the immigration workers who did not turn up for duty on November 12, which resulted in long lines at the airport, Baptiste-Primus said she was “very disappointed” and described their actions as “unconscionable.”

She said if the workers had a problem there is a grievance procedure and it ought to have been followed in this situation.

The former trade union leader said punishing the public is not the answer to get the attention of the authorities.

“While one may understand they (the immigration officers) have concerns, and they may have a grievance, there is a grievance procedure. There is a procedure of taking things to the chief personnel officer, if there is a grievance, take it to the Ministry of Finance and then, down to the special tribunal of the Industrial Court.

“There are mechanisms to resolve these issues, and resorting to that sort of action was not in the best interest of the country, and even in the best interest of the officers. I would advise them to think very carefully before engaging in such action because if the employer were to proceed with disciplinary action the union would not be able to save them.

“The union may be in a position to represent them, but representing someone does not necessarily equate saving that person’s job,” Baptiste-Primus said.

Employers Consultative Association chimes in

Chief executive of the Employers Consultative Association, Joycelyn Francois-Opadeyi, said absenteeism is still an issue adding that based on the feedback ECA was getting from employers, absenteeism is “almost chronic.”

“I think there is a lot of work that has to be done where employees are concerned, to understand how their absence impacts productivity. At the end of the day, it’s a vicious cycle. If the productivity levels are going down then our jobs continue to be at risk, because then our companies cannot be competitive on the global market. There is need for education and information in order to change the mindset of employees.”

On the issue of the T&T Revenue Authority, Francois-Opadeyi said the issue is engaging the attention of the ECA.

“It is great to set up a revenue authority, but is it going to be effective? At the end of the day, everything comes back to productivity.”