FLASHBACK: Members of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) during Labour Day Celebrations in Fyzabad June 2019.

Joel Julien

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Strengthening social dialogue between employers’ and workers’ organisations in Trinidad and Tobago to build more resilient labour markets damaged by COVID-19 was the key commitment made during a bi-partite dialogue hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the Caribbean.

During the virtual event, high-level representatives from employers’ and workers’ groups expressed their solidarity to find sustainable solutions to the many complex socio-economic challenges faced by businesses and employees as a result of the global health pandemic.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the situation has meant significant losses suffered by many economic sectors, leading to layoffs and business closures. Some of the hardest-hit sectors include oil and gas, construction, tourism and hospitality, civil aviation, retail, trade, manufacturing and entertainment.

The meeting was part of the ILO Office for the Caribbean’s ongoing efforts to engage constituents in social dialogue to explore different approaches to address the crisis. It provided a forum for the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA), the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago (NATUC) and the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) to discuss the interconnected impacts on the economy and workforce, as well as share ideas for developing a roadmap for a sustainable recovery.

“Employers’ and workers’ organisations have a key part to play in the design and implementation of public support measures for the sectors most directly affected by the pandemic. They can ensure that measures to protect the livelihoods of workers and enterprises are implemented effectively and are targeted at those most in need,” said Dennis Zulu, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean, during his opening remarks.

“This is a watershed moment if there ever was one. As social partners, we must therefore be reminded of a principle that I know my comrades from the trade union movement will understand and appreciate, and that is, ‘there is power in community and power in agreement.’ In this regard, we must commit to putting aside our differences and plumb the depths of what we really believe about one another, about Trinidad and Tobago, and about the value of cooperation and dialogue,” said Keston Nancoo, Chairman of the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) of Trinidad and Tobago, as he addressed meeting participants.

Participants highlighted that the pandemic has worsened already existing socio-economic disparities, particularly for the economically disadvantaged who are often employed in the informal economy without social protection.

“We must recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the sharpest and deepest economic contraction in the history of capitalism. In Trinidad and Tobago, we cannot forget that the pandemic has exacerbated existing structural problems. It has exposed the vulnerability of the economic framework in terms of the deep social and economic inequalities – the old normal, which we haven’t even reconciled,” explained Ozzy Warwick, General-Secretary of the JTUM.

The importance of greater collectivism was also recognized to go beyond traditional measures and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 so that government, workers and employers can build back better for an effective recovery.

“Job growth and economic growth are the pillars to get out of this particular situation. We need to find meaningful ways in order to keep the economy afloat. The traditional way of sending workers home cannot be and must not be the answer” said Michael Annisette, General-Secretary of NATUC. “The tripartite approach is needed more now than ever. Creativity, innovation and thinking out of the box are absolutely necessary.”