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Labour pains boil over into new year

Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Year in Review 2017
President general of the OWTU Ancel Roget, centre, leads Petrorin workers to set up strike camp outside the company’s Pointe-a-Pierre headquarters after serving them with strike notice last January. Photo by:Rishi Ragoonath

A tense industrial relations climate resulted in some unprecedented action, with protests being staged outside the home of a Government Minister as well as inside the Parliament.

The latter action resulted in two workers associated with the gaming industry being banned from the precincts of the Parliament.

In a massive show of force, labour leaders abandoned the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) in protest over what they claimed was the disrespect of a senior government minister for the trade union movement and workers.

The year began with the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) led by Ancel Roget threatening a strike at Petrotrin to press for increased wages for the more than 5,000 employees of the State-owned energy company. The action was called off only after Government’s intervention and an agreement for a five per cent wage increase.

Roget also led a series of protests at the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission.

In April, he was telling oil giant bpTT to “take yuh rig and go” as he led workers in a protest outside of the Prime Minister’s office in St Clair after the company decided against fabricating its Angelin platform locally.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said Angelin’s fate was sealed by protests which delayed completion of another bpTT project, resulting in the Juniper platform being removed from T&T to be completed abroad.

Roget denounced the policies of the Rowley administration and warned of a series of protests.

“They’re devoid of any idea that can bring about good governance, we’re experiencing very poor governance,” he said.

Roget further warned that the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM, which he headed, was prepared to “shake up this blasted place” if Government didn’t treat workers with respect.

By March, the three umbrella trade union organisations, JTUM, Fitun and Natuc had withdrawn from the NTAC following the decision to close down the Tourism Development Company (TDC).

Secretary General of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Joseph Remy described the decision as a breach of the principles of tripartism and consultation.

TDC workers staged protests against the decision which was announced by Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe.

Despite their protests, the 111 workers were sent home and two new tourism entities set up.

In October, the Tourism Trinidad Destination Management Company was formed with a board of directors headed by former Miss Universe Jannelle Penny Commissiong.

Another company was formed to deal with tourism in Tobago.

In July, eight employees of the Sports Company of T&T (Sportt) were sent on administrative leave as the Office of the Attorney General ordered a forensic audit into the company.

By year’s end all eight, including CEO Adam Montserin, had been relieved of their duties.

There was also a shake-up on the board of Sportt with two directors being replaced.

Trade unionists used Labour Day celebrations in Fyzabad on June 19 to send another warning about their growing disenchantment with the Government.

Roget said: “As the conscience of the people, the labour movement must hold every Government accountable.”

He warned of a massive protest and on August 4, there was a show of force as workers staged a demonstration in Port-of-Spain.

Roget issued an open-ended ultimatum for Rowley to meet with trade unions, failing which, labour would intensify their actions.

He also called for the immediate removal of the “four non-performing ministers”—National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley responded to the demands from the trade union leaders by calling for restraint and understanding given the country’s economic circumstances.

He assured that “far from the views expressed by some voices in the labour movement, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is not unmindful of the stresses and strains exerted on the national population, especially those who face inadequate income earnings or who encounter the prospect of a reduction in employment opportunities.”

Rowley agreed to meet with labour leaders and urged them to return to NTAC. After a nearly three-hour long meeting on September 13, Government agreed to a moratorium on retrenchment in the public sector until December 31.

In October, after the presentation of the Budget, there was another massive show of force as workers aligned to the Public Services Association, NATUC and the Members Club and Lottery Workers Union, protested outside the Parliament against new tax measures, including a hike in fuel prices and a 100 per cent increase in gaming taxes.

A decision to increase the number of maxi taxis and allow maxis to work outside of their respective routes was eventually put on hold.

Casino workers took their protests against the increase in gaming taxes to the Maraval home of the Finance on the Divali holiday. The Minister did not meet with them but his wife accepted a letter from the protesters.

The workers later staged a protest inside the Parliament as Minister in the Ministry of Finance Allyson West was winding up the budget debate in the Senate. They were escorted out of the chamber and House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George later deemed members club employee Maxine Gonzales and president of the Independent Fishermen Union of TT Robert Sagramsingh for shouting across the floor.

This year also saw protests by UTT workers over a planned restructuring of the facility. Roget led the workers in protests.

“There is an attempt, through the guise of so-called restructuring, for the reduction of the number of campuses from 15 to six. That would have a devastating impact on the number of workers who now service all of those campuses,” he said.

UTT has more than 1,200 staff members and Roget expressed concern that as corporate management and academic staff are removed, so too will workers on the lower tiers. He said there has been a cut in government’s budgetary allocation to the University to $100 million.

Discussions on the issue will continue at the Ministry of Education later this month.


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