Labour Minister Errol McLeod said he was not disturbed by the spate of workers’ demonstrations in recent months. Contributing to yesterday’s budget debate in the House of Representatives McLeod, a former president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), advised trade union leaders to pursue better ways of representing their members’ interests. “Let me advise that trade unions and their leadership must begin to better articulate the interest of their members, their workers and that of the society in which we live,” McLeod added.
He said if improvements were sought and even achieved for some and not all “then we would not have properly prepared that group of people. We have to see the national interest.” National Security Minister Jack Warner, seated next to McLeod in the chamber, said:” Talk boy talk, talk, talk!”
McLeod heeded. “We must know that the strike weapon is a most important weapon and we can have it subscribed to the development of our democracy. Of course we can,” he said. He added: “So we must know when to strike. When we take action, Mr Speaker, such action should not end up being punitive to the very people whom we claim to be serving.” At the same time Warner shouted: “TCL, TCL.”
McLeod continued, saying, “there are now some 50 workers who continue to be outside of their jobs,” an apparent reference to unresolved matters at Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL), following a strike ordered by the OWTU months ago. He said that situation persisted because “one decided that one must shutdown the place and not listen to very reasonable advice that is given.”
McLeod said in his capacity as chief conciliator “there are some things which I will not even say to this Parliament because I want at all times to not just be impartial but to also appear to be impartial.” He added: “The TCL strike was an error of great magnitude in Trinidad and Tobago.” He said the law recognised the rights of unions and employers to take industrial action to settle new collective agreements.
McLeod said he was not aware of any attempt by the People’s Partnership Government “to stultify the growth of the trade union movement (and) to stifle popular protest.” He said the Government had been seeking dialogue in the interest of the workers, employers and the entire country. He insisted, however, “there will continue to be those who will not readily accept our word and who might well go on a course that might end up being destructive.”