Recent statements made by veteran business executive icon Arthur Lok Jack sent a painful chill through the spine of many. After all the public, parliamentary, political, talk show, legal and other fights over the true genesis and proposed operation of Sandals All-Inclusive Resorts in Tobago, came Mr Lok Jack's revealing statements.
According to Lok Jack, the 'Sandals deal' was struck over dinner at his house. It reminded me of a time when former Emmy-winning host of CNN's Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain visited Trinidad. Bourdain had lunch with members of the Syrian community during which one member essentially said that the 'one per cent' of Syrians controlled the economy of T&T and were a most powerful force in the country. The backlash of his statement was quick and severe!
Lok Jack saw absolutely no harm in the 'procurement' or manner of entry of Sandals in Tobago. Social media column, WIRED  of February 3, 2019, said in its Column titled NOBLE: HOW LOK JACK 'PULLED A KANYE' AND HIJACKED NATIONAL DISCUSSION ON SANDALS.
The article commenced, “In a move that beats US rapper Kanye West's 2009 snatching of Taylor Swift's mic at the VMA, Arthur Lok Jack—the surprise discussant at last Wednesday's UWI event—hijacked what ought to have been a significant national conversation about foreign direct investment.” Lok Jack now appears to be lobbying investors to jointly fund Sandals Resort in Tobago so as to once again attract Sandals to Tobago.
What amazes me is the fact that the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) leader Ancel Roget wasted no time and words in expressing dissatisfaction with the 'one per cent' comment. He had immediately called on the public to boycott a number of businesses owned by the Syrian-Lebanese community. Roget had also called for a meeting with Prime Minister Rowley to address the concerns of the trade union movement over the role the 'one per cent' played in the country. This same JTUM and the Oilfield Workers Trade Union appear to now be 'taking things lightly'.
There has been no voice from JTUM over the Sandals Affair, as to whether workers stood to benefit or be exploited with the establishment of this resort in Tobago. The fact is that a big deal, involving billions of taxpayers' dollars, is struck on a dinner table, whilst we witness the final nails pounded into the coffin of Petrotrin.
Thousands have been laid off at Petrotrin and possibly at TSTT, yet we have seen no riots or strikes, yet. Maybe, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert will raise the price of gas again in the upcoming Budget. And this brings into focus the role of the trade unions in the country. Are they still relevant? Are they fighting for survival? Are they being run by people who have their own individual political ambitions over and above their comrades?
Whilst people were being sent home from Petrotrin and TSTT, the citizenry felt that the representative trade unions themselves had insulted them by merely approaching the Industrial Court with a report of an industrial relations offence. This proved to be a total failure.
Thereafter, all talks about a trade union putting up a proposal to save the Petrotrin refinery were seen as too little too late. These unions who had been quick to beat drums, speak of war, sing, cook, eat and merry themselves into a strike or riot, all to their heart's content, have not even been seen squeaking like a mouse.
David Abdulah who is usually outspoken seems to have lost his voice. The station which broadcasted his interviews only resumed transmission recently when Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said that the UNC was interested in 'unity' and not a coalition.
After the shutdown of Arcelor Mital and the Petrotrin Refinery, as well as the loss of tens of thousands of jobs spread across the country since about 2016, questions are now arising as to the true role of the trade union movement. Should workers/employees all now have the right to approach the Industrial Court on their own without a trade union?
Following on this, would it be worthwhile to simply have trade unions represent workers on 'interest-based' matters and not 'rights-related' matters. In other words, should a union only represent workers in established bargaining units over terms and conditions and nothing more?
Given the current climate and recent track record of the trade unions, the legal argument that an individual cannot access the Industrial Court on his/her own and/or with their legal representatives breaches fundamental rights under the Constitution, does seem very attractive.
Maybe, there is no longer any relevance in strikes, mass riots, grumbling and negotiating on top of desks in the CPO's office. What might be needed to solve the current problems in our country is a group of new, young and dynamic individuals who will be prepared to put our country first, over themselves.