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Analysts: Politics in OWTU settlement

Published: 
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Dr Bishnu Ragoonath

Politics may have played a hand in Monday’s wage increase settlement between the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and the Government which led to the cancelling of strike action by oil workers.

This was cautiously indicated by political analysts, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, and Dr Winford James, who both recalled the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the PNM on the eve of the September 2015 general election.

OWTU leader, Ancel Roget, is also leader of the JTUM.

Ragoonath, referring to the MOU, preferred to use the word “strategy” to describe what played off between the two negotiating parties over the payment of salary increases to workers of State-owned oil company, Petrotrin.

“It was a strategy to ensure both the Government and the OWTU leadership come out as winners. Both parties achieved their objectives,” he told the T&T Guardian in response to questions.

Ragoonath, noting the unnecessarily “drawn out” nature of negotiations, said, “Whereas the workers would have pressed for increases in remuneration, I believe the union and the Government would taken a more responsible position to ensure neither workers nor the country endure pain and suffering.”

He pointed out that the public is yet to hear about the remainder of the 2011 to 2014 agreement still not settled, adding the period 2014 to 2017 has also not been dealt with either.

Ragoonath said by Roget tying workers’ back pay with productivity, there’s the possibility they may not get it at all if there is a continuing decline in oil production.

“They may simply get their salary increases,” he said.

The MOU, signed between PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley and Roget as the leader of the Joint Trade Union Movement at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) in Port of Spain in August 2015, one month before the September 7 general election, states they agreed to the “principle that government, business and labour must operate within a framework of mutual respect and collaboration to ensure a better tomorrow for all of us”.

The parties also agreed to adopt the philosophy that there must be space to build a compatible vision for the new economy and as such, there must be a genuine attempt, including political will, to avoid social conflict and to incorporate trade unions into the process of nation building.

It was felt the signing of the MOU could end the “cycle of confrontation” that spins between governments and the labour movement through genuine consultation.

James observed “there were smiles all around” after Monday’s settlement from Rojet, as well as, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus.

He had some important questions. “Why did they take so long to get to the five per cent? The Government only bowed to the five per cent when the strike was imminent and it appeared they responded under duress.

“One wonders why both parties had to get to that point before they settled at five per cent. The idea of an increase should have already been on the cards.”