Meeting between T&T PM, unions fails to resolve issues

(Trinidad Express) This country will not be shut down by the labour movement and Government will survive whatever action it takes, says Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

The Prime Minister said the nation should be alert but have no fear because Government has contingency plans in place.

She said she strongly believes that good sense will prevail.

“There is not going to be a national strike. There will be a strike of some workers, but it is not a national strike,” said Persad-Bissessar.

She pointed out that “large blocks” of workers—the Public Service Association (PSA) and Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) workers—have settled their negotiations.

Persad-Bissessar said the unions have a right to industrial action.

“I hope that it doesn’t get to there, but I will not be surprised by anything at this stage of my life,” she said.

She added that Government does have plans in place in the best interest of the people of the country.

The Prime Minister was speaking to the media at a news conference at the Prime Minister’s office, St Clair, yesterday where she and Permanent Secretary Reynald Cooper had a three-hour meeting with 19 heads of various trade unions, led by Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union president-general Ancel Roget.

Persad-Bissessar said the meeting was terminated because she was being put in a position to negotiate, which she cannot do.

She said she went though all items of concern on the accord of the union leaders, but the five per cent issue was the sticking point.

“At the end of the meeting, we went back to square one. They asked me about the five per cent cap and at that point of the meeting they wanted me to actually negotiate, and I said I cannot negotiate, you will have to negotiate with your employers.

“So I was placed in a position where I was being asked to declare that there is a removal of the five per cent cap and at that point I felt, as I said, that I was in a position where I would now be negotiating what should be dealt with by the various employers and the CPO and I could not accede to that request. I repeated to them there is no five per cent cap, go to the collective bargaining table and negotiate there,” she continued.

“If it were that I were to say that I have removed this five per cent cap then what would happen they would go to the bargaining table starting at five per cent,” she explained.

She said she was accused by the union leaders of contaminating the bargaining process and she indicated that they can go to the table with a clean slate, as she publicly reiterates that there is no five per cent cap.

Asked if the people of this country should worry about these threats to shut down the country, Persad-Bissessar said: “There are many of them who do not share the view of some others.

“You would have seen we went though similar trying times when the PSA negotiations were taking place and the country survived that.”

She said she was confident that the majority of the people would not take action to affect the country.

“I think the majority will determine which direction we go in. I think who want good will be those in authority who will not destruct Trinidad and Tobago… they have their children to see about; they have their families to see about,” she said.

She said she agreed that she will review the concerns put forward by the union leaders and also informed them they can meet with Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath and Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie on certain matters, such as agriculture and land usage.

The Prime Minister read out a number of new labour laws that were forthcoming in the Parliament.

She added that she gave the commitment that that she will review the process and establish a new mechanism that is more appropriate as the union leaders expressed disappointment with the inter-ministerial committee that was set up to look at the negotiations.

Persad-Bissessar said she was firm on Government’s policy with respect to contract workers.

“I was of the firm view… that you cannot take a blanket position to rehire any contract worker. In keeping with our very well-articulated position on accountability and transparency, I advised them that we had taken a policy position that when contracts expire we will advertise the position in the public sector, and where possible persons holding positions on contract they will have the opportunity to reapply for the jobs,” she said.

She advised that she also suggested that the impasse between the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) and the CPO be resolved through mediation.

Persad-Bissessar said a process must be followed and if it is broken then there is the tribunal and then the Industrial Court.


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