Dr Andre Vincent Henry.

Anna-Lisa Paul

In an attempt to formulate a framework to guide safe work as T&T moves towards a full reopening of the economy, the heads of several business organisations have started discussions with the trade union movement, hoping to arrive at a position that will protect workers’ rights and preserve the rights of all employers.

In a joint release yesterday, the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGO’s (FITUN) said Tuesday’s meeting was “to commence bi-lateral dialogue on the framework for safe work in a COVID-19 environment across all sectors as the economy reopens, with the aim of mitigating further economic hardship.”

The August 3 meeting was held at the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-Operative Studies (CCLCS) in Valsayn and was chaired by CCLCS director Dr Andre Vincent Henry.

Although no date was given in the release for a second meeting, Guardian Media understands another session is being proposed for tomorrow.

Representatives of both sides yesterday refused to divulge details of what has so far been ventilated, but described the meeting as courteous.

One person indicated, “With the Delta variant posing more of a threat to us due to how contagious it is, T&T with its low vaccination rate is in a very precarious position.”

A second person admitted the meeting was instrumental in bringing relevant parties together to begin discussions.

“Both parties are committed to the process in trying to find a way to balance legitimate concerns and needs in this new COVID-19 environment.”

These concerns, he claimed, included “protection of privacy, protection of workers’ rights, protection of employment, protection of livelihoods and protection of lives.”

The long-term aim of the discussions will be to achieve a “structured and humane framework” moving forward.

A working document is currently being compiled and will be circulated amongst members to invite suggestions and recommendations before any definitive policy is published.

FITUN was represented by president Joseph Remy while JTUM’s representatives included general secretary Ozzi Warwick and assistant general secretary Trevor Johnson, along with executive members Letitia Cox and Nirvan Maharaj.

NATUC was represented by general secretary Michael Annisette and first vice-president James Lambert, along with executive member Judy Charles.

The business community included AMCHAM T&T CEO Nirad Tewarie, Energy Chamber president and CEO Dax Driver, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Charles Pashley, CEO Gabriel Faria and COO Michelle Gonsalves-Suite and T&T Manufacturers’ Association president Tricia Coosal and CEO Ramesh Ramdeen.

While the Employers Consultative Association (ECA) was not invited to the meeting, its chairman Keston Nancoo reinforced, “Workplace policies are supposed to be driven and informed by labour legislation in the country.”

He acknowledged T&T was at a place where economic recovery is very much dependent on a vaccinated population and said officials could not completely ignore existing legislation.

“This is why the ECA has been talking about moral suasion and I have no doubt that in the not too distant future, you will see a stepping up of the pace in terms of where we need to land,” he said.

Nancoo explained, “You cannot ask an employer to meet his/her obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety regulation and the employee, who also has an obligation and more specifically, the employee can withhold his/her labour if the workplace environment is not conducive for health or is threatening to life, limb or health. So I rather suspect that is where it will end up and I hope reason will prevail.”