SWWTU president Michael Annisette.



President of the Seamen and Waterfront Trade Union (SWWTU) Michael Annisette has said the privatisation of the Port-of-Spain port by could lead to 1,300 workers losing jobs next year.

The intended privatisation was announced in the budget presentation and is targetted for the end of 2021.

Annisette said the announcement was a slap to the face of the union and port employees.

He promised the union will go all out to ensure the port is not given away.

In a telephone interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Annisette said he believed the port was deliberately “starved of needed cash” and neglected by Government to bring in a private entity to take control.

“We are paying a heavy price today. The port has been used as a whipping board.”

Most ports if operated properly can be viable and generate revenue for the State, Annisette said.

He said for years workers have been using archaic tools.

“And as a consequence of that the port was made ready for private enterprise to take over on the basis that the Government does not have money to do the kinds of investments. We believe if workers are given the right tools we can perform.”

Annisette said while the union had an inclination months ago that the port would be privatised, they were not consulted on the move beforehand.

“Why we must hear on the radio in a budget speech they going to privatise the port? This is a total disrespect to the union and workers. When this PNM-led Government came into power it was clear the intention was to run down the port because they had no meaningful engagement with the union.”

He said the Government continues to be insensitive with its decisions.

“Yesterday, I was bombarded by port workers who wanted to know if they would be retrenched. I was not in a position to answer because no information has been forthcoming.”

Annisette said the privatisation could see the displacement of 1,300 workers, 900 of whom are permanent public servants.

A study, he said, should be done to determine if the private sector or Government is best suited to manage the port and what are the social implications if there are layoffs.

He wondered which private entity will be given the green light to run the port.

“I am not in a position to say in which private sector hands it will go into.”

Meanwhile, chairman of the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) Lyle Alexander said Government’s intention to privatise did not come as a surprise.

“It was not a shock announcement to us. It was something that had been discussed before.”

Alexander said placing the offer on the table for potential owners/handlers in the private sector was the first step in the process.

Asked if this could be completed in the one-year period as stated by Imbert, Alexander responded:

“I would not be so ambitious at this time to talk about the timeline because who knows…you don’t control the outcome nor can you say when it will be complete.”

He said the idea is to look for participation from the private sector and that will come at the end when both parties are satisfied with what arrangements will be put in place.

He refused to respond to Annisette’s claims but said the port’s management will work with the SWWTU to get the best outcomes moving forward.