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 sticking by its decision to opt out of the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).

It also is rubbishing Government claims that tripartism is alive and well since NTAC has not been functioning as it should. 

In a joint statement issued today, the three trade union umbrella bodies— National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOS (FITUN)—say several occasions of unilateral action by Government on matters of national importance requiring social dialogue in the tripartite space, have served to cement their decision.

The statement cites major industrial issues ranging from the failure to complete collective agreements with representative public sector unions; to the closures of Petrotrin and the Tourism Development Company; the retrenchment exercise at TSTT; to the recent exercise to reorganise the Water and Sewerage Authority, where, the union bodies claim, Government seems intent on its union busting and workers’ rights infringement agenda.

According to the joint statement: “We are convinced that the government attempted to use NTAC as a mechanism to control the entire trade union movement, while they continued unabated with their anti-worker and union busting agenda. We shall have none of that!”

The following is the full text of the joint statement from the three trade union federations…

TRADE UNION FEDERATIONS STANDING FIRM BY THEIR DECISION

The country’s three trade union federations, National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOS (FITUN) wish to state that we stand vindicated about our decision to withdraw from the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC). Please note that NTAC was conceptualized as a Tripartite Process and established by Government to facilitate the process of true and meaningful Social Dialogue.

We have carefully noted that the Minister of Planning, acting in her capacity as Chair of NTAC, has issued a statement that included the acceptance of the resignation of the Trade Union Representatives from NTAC and that the work of NTAC is going on. In addition, we have noted with great consternation a statement made by the neophyte Minister “Not For” Labour about the Trade Unions being disingenuous in their actions of withdrawing from NTAC.

Firstly, we wish to state that TRIPARTISM is a process of Social Dialogue that has been institutionalized by the International Labour Organisation, ILO, as one that is constituted between the three (3) main Social Partners within the economy, i.e., Government, Business and Labour. The ILO described Tripartism as “the interaction of government, employers and workers (through their representatives) as equal and independent partners to seek solutions to issues of common concern”.

We posited that several major issues of common concern were unilaterally decided upon by the Government and as such that was contrary to what the ILO described as tripartism.

Additionally, simple deduction indicates that if Labour is not a part of the Tripartite process, then, by definition, there is no longer a Tripartite process in place. There is no basis for the Government to claim that NTAC is still functional. As far as the Labour Movement is concerned, NTAC is as dead as the then Economic Development Advisory Board and the Government’s much touted “Road to Recovery Plan’. We wish to align our thinking to that of our first Prime Minister the late Dr Eric Williams, when he pulled Trinidad and Tobago from the floundering Federation by stating that “One from Ten leaves Zero”. In this case as far as we are concerned, “One from three leaves Zero”.

Secondly, we wish to state that the current Industrial Relations Act of Trinidad and Tobago, enshrines a right for the recognition of Trade Unions as the legitimate and legal representative for workers in the Country, once they hold a Certificate of Recognition from the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board, RRCB. As such, with or without NTAC, the Government as a major employer in the economy, has a legal obligation to meet and treat with all Recognised Majority Unions to deal with matters affecting workers in the country.

We have already stated our justification for withdrawing from the NTAC. We have also not seen any rationale or explanation given by the Government in response to our decision to depart from NTAC.

Clearly, the vacuous statement by the Minister of Planning is yet another demonstration of the government’s complete lack of understanding of the tripartite process. So, without attempting to be repetitious, we wish to make it clear that the three Federations came to the inescapable conclusion that NTAC was being considered and operationalized by the Government as another Government Department controlled by the Cabinet. This is definitely not aligned to the tenets and principles of Tripartism, and Social Dialogue as defined by the ILO. We are convinced that the government attempted to use NTAC as a mechanism to control the entire trade union movement, while they continued unabated with their anti-worker and union busting agenda. We shall have none of that!

Additionally, we wish to restate that there were several other significant reasons for our withdrawal from and continued non-participation in NTAC, inter alia, the unilateral decisions and no discussions at NTAC with respect to the closure of TDC and Petrotrin; and retrenchment at TSTT, all of which had disastrous effect for the many thousands of workers who were placed on the breadline. Not to mention the disrespect shown to Trade Unions by the Non-Settlement of several outstanding Collective Agreements and Negotiation’s, the obscene statements made by the Minister of Finance, the debacle with the NIB Wage negotiations and now the WASA conundrum wherein the Executive Director, under the guidance and direction of the Minister of Public Utilities, has made the most egregious attack on the right of a Trade Union Leader to represent the workers who would have, legitimately through a democratic process, elected that Leader to represent them as provided for by the Labour Legislation, Collective Agreements and established good and proper Industrial Relations Practices.

The Joint Federations would like to strongly advise the Minister “Not for” Labour, that he should first try to get an understanding of his portfolio and at the same time take note of the abysmal track records of several other failed Ministers of Labour, who also chose to take the quite “disingenuous” path of confrontation with the Trade Union Movement and have all ended up in the “Lapeyrouse Hall of Infamy” We are convinced that based on his performance so far, he has already reserved his Plot. The Minister is disingenuous because despite numerous requests, he is yet to meet with all the Trade Unions.

We wish to place on public record that the Joint Federations made a recommendation to the Government that there should be urgent measures taken to Legally Institutionalize the Social Dialogue Process. This will avoid mechanisms like NTAC from becoming just another arm of the Government’s Bureaucracy and malaise. Instead, we are prepared to engage in dialogue, consistent with our rights as provided for under the Industrial Relations Act and good Industrial Relations Practices. However, we are not prepared to have the labour movement be part of a charade or Sham, such as the current NTAC Configuration, which the Government has designed as part of their Public Relations Machinery while they emasculate workers’ rights and terms and conditions of employment.

Finally, we wish to reiterate our position that our continued participation in the NTAC under the current conditions and behaviour of this government would be sacrilegious to the aims and objectives of the Progressive Trade Union Movement. As such, without apology we stand firm in our position to remove ourselves from the NTAC.

National Trade Union Centre (NATUC)

Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM)

Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOS (FITUN)