IAN KEVIN RAMDHANIE
Caribbean Institute for Security
and Public Safety
Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget has warned Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar she will pay the ultimate political price for waging an “unprovoked war” against workers. He was addressing workers of the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC), San Fernando branch, during a protest against, among other things, the suspension of 30 workers, including branch president John Sooklalsingh.
“T&TEC management has embarked on an action which carries the net effect of putting the public at risk, putting the workers at risk, creating a very untenable environment at T&TEC,” he said. Sooklalsingh and the other workers, including union officers and activists, were suspended for a month for engaging in industrial action on May 23 at Public Lighting Department (PLD) in Reform Village, Gasparillo.
Prior to this action, Sooklalsingh said all the workers who were absent on May 23, whether or not they participated in the protest or the march in Port-of-Spain, were served with warning letters. Management was wrong to suspend them because workers were exercising their constitutional right to engage in peaceful protest, Sooklalsingh said.
Describing the T&TEC facility at Reform Village as a slave house, Sooklalsingh said among the other issues were management’s violation of the collective agreement, Industrial Relations Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Maternity Act and failure to comply with court orders. Roget said: “I want to send a message to top management of T&TEC, to the line minister, to the politicians and the Prime Minister herself...it is simple and it is clear, if you did not know before comrades, we are in war.
“The commission has declared war on its workers but more particularly the commission has declared war on the OWTU.” Lines have been drawn, he said, adding that the OWTU would hound the government out of office just as it had hounded workers out of their jobs. Assuring the suspended workers that they would be reinstated, he called on Public Utilities Minister Nizam Baksh to investigate the T&TEC board.
Describing the workers’ suspension as vindictive and spiteful, Roget said management was trying to break the spirit of workers. Recalling that Persad-Bissessar in 2009/2010 had stated on a political platform that unsafe practices and corruption existed at T&TEC, he said now her Cabinet had decided “to go after OWTU and the T&TEC workers, conscious of the fact that decision will impact on workers safety.”
As a consequence, he said, he could not guarantee a reliable supply of electricity. “It cannot be business as usual at T&TEC,” he added. Expressing concern that the suspended workers would be replaced with contract workers, he said: “It carries the impact of promoting a very unsafe environment and conditions on the job.”