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Union’s actions ill-conceived, irresponsible
The recent gas strike—called by the president general of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, Ancel Roget, on the first day after the 50th-anniversary celebrations of Independence and on the first day back out to school for the nation’s children—can only be termed highly irresponsible. What makes this action even more unacceptable is that the stated causes for it were matters that could have been resolved without recourse to what must be the last resort, that is, calling workers off the job.
The matters that are said to have driven the union to the point of industrial action—variable pay for workers (which amounts to profit-sharing), the filling of 500 vacancies and the claim that a contract for bunkering facilities was given to a foreign firm—have all been resolved over a 48-hour period. The “magic tools” used were constructive dialogue, mature co-operation and productivity-linked incentives.
Why, then, the call-out by the union leader for workers to cease producing for the benefit of the entire economy and country? Frankly, it is puzzling, and the cynical may believe that it was a mobilisation effort ahead of tomorrow’s planned demonstration in the city—yet another effort by the trade union leaders to reduce production and contaminate the industrial environment with anxiety and contention.
The short-lived and totally unnecessary action at Petrotrin must also be considered in the context of the three-month strike earlier this year at Trinidad Cement Ltd. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost in that debacle as construction activity in the economy was badly affected both by delays because of insufficient quantities of cement, and price increases, as the wholesale and retail prices of cement increased significantly.
When they become officially available, the figures on the Gross Domestic Product for the period will surely show declines with little or no benefit accruing to workers. Further, the OWTU, like the other unions, must take into consideration before utilising its weapon of last resort, the reality of the state of the local economy. They must consider that the economy has experienced negative growth for three years and has run up massive budget deficits over the same period of time.
They must surely be aware, too, that the new finance minister has signalled not only that the deficits will continue into the future, but that austerity measures will have to be included in the budget he is to present within days. Mr Roget and the other major leaders of the trade union movement are fully aware of the state of the regional and international economic environment. This weakened economic performance worldwide is not the creation of the T&T government or the local business community, but rather the result of a complex mix of international economic factors over which T&T has no influence.
Equally unacceptable is the call-out by the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association in this, the first week of the new academic year. Both the major employer in the economy, the Government, through its Chief Personnel Officer, and employees, represented by their trade unions, must attempt to be reasonable and efficient and take into consideration the state of the national economy and the greater good in their negotiations.
No one benefits from long-drawn out negotiations and strikes which debilitate the economy and stir up bad blood across the negotiating table. During the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations, commentators and citizens alike were urging a renewed and combined focus to do better over the next 50 years. The week after the celebrations ended, the signs are not promising. Were those words empty of meaning?
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