Joseph Remy

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has failed to respond to a joint letter from the country’s leading business and labour organisations calling for an emergency meeting of the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) to deal with the job loss expected to take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This country’s labour leaders and private sector executives had put aside their differences and joined forces to pen a letter to Rowley in which they called on him to convene the meeting. That letter was dated April 16, almost three weeks ago but up to yesterday Rowley had not responded to it.

The letter was signed by a virtual who’s who of T&T’s labour and private sector, comprising National Trade Union Centre of T&T general secretary Michael Annisette, Joint Trade Union Movement general secretary Ozzi Warwick, Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs president Joseph Remy, Energy Chamber of T&T president and CEO Dr Thackwray Driver, T&T Chamber of Industry & Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria, T&T Manufacturers’ Association CEO Mahindra Ramesh Ramdeen and American Chamber of Commerce of T&T CEO Nirad Tewarie.

“These are extraordinary times and the country is facing a very grave crisis. The private-sector and the labour movement, understanding the seriousness of the crisis, know that we must come together to help the nation through this crisis,” the letter stated.

The labour movement and private sector lauded the Government for its handling of the pandemic so far but warned about its possible impact on employment.

“Both the private-sector representative organisations and the trade union movement have committed to doing all they can to preserve jobs through this crisis,” the letter said.

“Individual unions and employers have been meeting to discuss what can be done at a company-level to preserve jobs. Unfortunately, such bi-partite collaboration is not enough to achieve stability of short-term employment and set the foundation for national recovery.”

It added, “We strongly believe that the time is now right to expand these discussions to a national level, facilitated by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and to jointly identify what actions can be taken to preserve jobs.”

The letter said the discussion is two-fold: (1) keeping the economy and employment alive during this crisis period and (2) rehabilitating the economy and employment when we start to emerge out of the current restrictions.

It said the National Tripartite Advisory Council could be a possible forum for meeting given the urgency and critical nature of the crisis, Rowley should chair the meeting.

Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, Warwick said Rowley had not responded to the letter yet.

“We view that the letter which was written is an historic letter because that letter had trade unions and the key business organisations coming together, recognising the situation and writing to the Prime Minister,” he said.

“We expect a response from the Prime Minister because we are of the view that as a Prime Minister, if you receive such a historic letter knowing full well the type of people you are dealing with… then it will auger well for you at this time as the Prime Minister to respond to that letter. So we await the Prime Minister’s response. We have not received it.”

On April 16, Rowley announced the creation of a new Cabinet-appointed team whose sole responsibility will be to draft a road map for recovery for T&T post-COVID-19.

Annissette, as well as Christopher Henry from JTUM, along with several prominent business persons, are part of that committee. That team is scheduled to present its first report to Rowley this week.

Asked if he felt the issues raised by the joint bodies in the would be addressed by the committee, Warwick said it would be up to Rowley to say in his response.

“In his response, he would have to explain to us how he views it. Whether he is very happy for this letter and he is looking into it and he believes that what we raised and our concerns can be included in his committee, or whether there should be at least a very high-level NTAC meeting,” Warwick said.

“The NTAC mechanism should not be sidelined or taken for granted, it is an important national mechanism to build consensus around sharing the burden of adjustments and therefore it should receive the highest level of seriousness by the Government,” he said.

Guardian Media reached out to Rowley yesterday to ask if he would be responding to the joint letter but up to press time no response was forthcoming.