FLASHBACK - OWTU’S Chief Education and Research Officer, Ozzie Warwick, left, JTUM President General Ancel Roget, PSA President Watson Duke, SWWTU President General Michael Annisette, NUGFW President James Lambert and others at a joint trade unions news conference on 10th March 2021.

The trade union movement is calling on Government to follow precedent set last year during the 2020 lockdowns for the COVID-19 pandemic and include the operations of trade unions under the list of essential services for the 2021 lockdowns.

Concern over the change has been expressed in a joint statement issued today, by the three trade union federations—the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), and the Federation Of Independent Trade Unions & NGOs (FITUN)—even as they state their support for the Government’s current lockdown of the country.

The trade union federations express concern that workers will not be properly represented during this critical time period, especially with respect to ongoing matters before the Industrial Court which remains open, and which has been deemed an essential service.

The following is the full text of the joint statement issued by the trade union movement…

Trade Unions should be included as an Essential Service

The trade union federations of Trinidad and Tobago having written to the Minister of Legal Affairs on May 6th and underlining importance for the operations of Trade Unions to be considered as essential is dismayed at the government’s decision to exclude Trade Unions as an essential service under the most recent regulations.

Last year the trade unions were included as an essential service under the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)] (No. 14) Regulations 2020 (‘Regulation No. 14’) which was issued on 13 May 2020. While understanding the severity of the situation facing the country, Trade Unions represent a significant majority of workers in the essential service industry. Therefore, by deeming us as non-essential, severely jeopardises the ability and right of representation and security of workers who are very vulnerable at this most critical time.

Additionally, a major function of the Trade Unions is representing workers at the industrial court which, based on the ordinance, is considered an essential service, and remains open. With this essential service open, trade union officers are therefore required to represent their members at the Industrial Court. With us having been considered as non-essential, we now question, how can a Trade Union Officer effectively provide representation if they are prevented from being at their workplace? We hope that this was an error of omission and that our instant enquiry would have this situation rectified soonest.

We wish to make public our understanding of the current situation, and the fact that we are not against the measures. Rather we believe all that is being done with respect to the restrictions, are required under the current circumstances to ensure the preservation of life. However, we implore the government to readjust its stand with regards to Trade Unions for the betterment of our membership and the people of this country.

We, the three federations wish to reiterate that in accordance with the regulations implemented under the Public Health Ordinance via Legal Notice 81, there is a provision under Section 3 (aq) that allows for the Minister to authorize a person or group of persons to conduct a particular trade business etc.

The section states: –

(aq) “any trade, profession, business or service, activity or public gathering authorized to be carried on by the Minister.”