The serenity of Arena Road, Freeport, was disturbed yesterday after retiree Cyril “Ramesh” Maharaj was found bludgeoned to death in his living room yesterday afternoon.
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‘Mc Leod a big disappointment’
As planning for Labour Day moves ahead, Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general and head of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) Ancel Roget sat with the Sunday Guardian to discuss his political aspirations, government bashing and the public fallout between him and his former boss, Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod.
Q: There has been some talk that if the People’s National Movement (PNM) were to form the next government, you would be the next Minister of Labour. Any truth to that?
A: (low chuckle) No. That is foolish UNC propaganda but that has gained absolutely no resonance because I...(pause and deep breath) I do have a political agenda and that is to get the whole system of governance correct. Currently, it has outlived its usefulness.
Or should I put it another way: it is not serving the interests of the people it was meant to. We have inherited a system of governance that is not benefitting the people. So my political aspiration is to ensure that the system of governance changes, one that gives power to the people. Absolute rubbish.
You and the Joint Trade Union Movement have referred to failures in the labour sector and from the top as in failed labour ministers. Don’t you think that someone like yourself, who has fought for labour issues, would be the best man for the job?
Well...no. Once you continue to operate in a system that exploits labour for profit and puts workers in harm’s way to achieve economic gains, you will always have a situation where workers will lose. For instance, this current (Labour) Minister (Errol Mc Leod)... We, recognising the Industrial Relations Act—that law was put in place to regulate workers and prevent them from taking action in their own interest—recognising that we sent this current minister to the Government to change the law [and make it] more favourable to the workers...Right now, it is in favour of the employers.
So, with the existing laws unchanged, are you saying that successive labour ministers would continue to meet the same problems and continue to fail in your estimation?
And that is our point (raises index finger in the air). This current Labour Minister has recognised that and it is for that reason he was sent to the Government. We felt a sense of release, because here is someone who knows and fought against the same thing we are fighting against. But, we sent in a few good apples, one got out, one remained and got as bad as the rest. He (Mc Leod) continues to stand idly by and allow employers and state agencies to take advantage of their employees using the same act which he condemned.
Would you say, because of the relationship you’ve had with Mr Mc Leod in his previous incarnation as your boss and as a labour leader, that you are more disappointed in him than with other labour ministers?
That is exactly where the level of disappointment comes from. We [feel] no disappointment from previous ministers because we knew of their position on labour, but in terms of this minister, him being part of the labour movement, it is a very big disappointment. His ministry is lacking. We are experiencing a number of lock jams at the ministry and matters are just stuck there because the minister is reluctant to issue an unresolved certificate. When you do not do that you deny the worker an opportunity to go before the court.
Now you’ve fallen out of favour, fairly early, with the PP. Is it just the alleged five per cent cap that triggered that fallout or was there more to it?
I think it was a combination of a number of things, issues, not the least being the five per cent. All of the discussions about the workers’ agenda fell flat very early. As a labour leader, I could not sit by and see them politically victimise workers: they fired workers only because of assumed ties with the Opposition.
And then they called a State of Emergency against the labour movement; there could not have been a bigger sin than that and we will neither forgive nor forget that. This Government does not have the support of the labour movement, I want to state that categorically.
The trade union movement, the Joint Trade Union Movement, even the OWTU historically have not publicly aligned themselves with political parties in the past. This changed when the PP coalition started gaining momentum; the JTUM threw its weight behind it. Are you more protective of the labour movement now after seeing how that support turned out?
There were things that were done that certainly we would not do again. But if you back up, you would see that we had a workers’ agenda long before they got into office. They looked at the workers’ agenda and committed to implementing it. We also had that level of support because we had people joining with them and going into office with them and, well, people change.
Truth is, we knew the UNC was bad, but again we thought the good would be able to change them. But the bad people ended up changing the good people. There will be a different approach in the future.
You made a statement that no political party would be allowed to address the gathering on Labour Day. Why did you feel the need to specify that?
No, there is one political party that the JTUM approved to speak on the platform and that is the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ). All are welcome. We welcome everyone to Labour Day, but the platform is reserved for issues relating to labour and the workers...and the MSJ has always held labour at its core.