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SWWTU leader warns: Job losses if ports are privatised

Published: 
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Port privatisation, an issue affecting T&T and the wider Caribbean, can result in job losses and dismantling of trade unions, Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union ( SWWTU) President Michael Annisette warned yesterday.

In his address at the opening of the Caribbean Trade Union Leaders Conference at the Kapok Hotel, Port-of-Spain, Annissette said “ports of convenience” are being created across the region.

“We have coined that phrase because we are witnessing ports being privatised and as a consequent the deliberate effort to marginalise the trade union movement within those ports,” he said.

He said trade union members in St Lucia are experiencing problems because that country’s government has decided to privatise its port.

“SWWTU are in discussions with the St Lucia union to save jobs. We have similar concerns at the Port of Port-of-Spain but we have been able to stave off over three attempts to privatise that port,” Annisette said.

“The issue right now is Government saying . . . given the kinds of financial infrastructure required and given the Government’s financial position as a consequence of the drop in oil and gas prices, the question of searching for a private partner to operate the port is a reality.

“From our experience, as soon you talk about port privatisation, there is retrenchment of unionised workers and the mashing-up the trade union movement.”

The National Trade Union Centre and its affiliate the SWWTU held discussions yesterday with Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Federation (ITF). Annisette said the talks focused on solutions to the challenges facing Caribbean ports.

Another issue Annisette cited was Government’s “unwillingness and insensitivity” to ratifying the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 which several Caribbean countries have already ratified.

“Trinidad and Tobago, which has a wide level of vessels coming in—the last count was 1700 and more—and yet still we have not yet ratified that document which we call the bill of rights for seafarers. We are making a special call and asking the ITF to assist us in ensuring the Trinidad and Tobago Government bring on board for the legislative agenda the ratification of MLC 2006,” Annisette said.

Cotton, who is on his first visit to the Caribbean, said more research and discussions are needed to convince governments that there is a better way to secure less precarious futures. He said the ITF is also paving a stronger path to support its Caribbean colleagues and ensure young workers have more power.

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