(Trinidad Express) Another major trade union has accepted Government’s five per cent wage offer bringing to an end a crippling shutdown of operations at the main cargo port in Port of Spain.
News of the latest settlement had not reached the ears of protesting workers up to late yesterday who remained off the job.
Scores of crane operators and other key personnel stayed away from work citing unsanitary working conditions.
Their action increased the anxiety among business owners, hoping to cash in on last-minute Christmas sales. They complained last week of losing millions after last weekend’s shutdown.
In a statement yesterday the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) noted the ongoing strike action by workers at the Port of Port of Spain in the midst of current negotiations between the unions and the government will have a debilitating affect on efforts to clear the backlog of containers and in receiving and delivering goods at the port.
Reliable sources close to the negotiating team said while president of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union’s (SWWTU) Michael Annisette and his team accepted Government’s five per cent offer, one which he has repeatedly publicly criticised president of the Public Services Association Watson Duke for accepting, his deal included surprise sweeteners.
In its wage and salaries negotiations offer to the union, the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) suggested two per cent in the first year, one per cent in the second year and another two per cent for the third year of the 2008-2010 negotiation period, with consolidation of the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) for the first year only.
The counter-offer repeated those annual percentages of two per cent, one per cent, two per cent for the three year period, but called for the consolidation of COLA at the beginning of each year instead.
“The Government has accepted the counter-offer,” Transport Minister Devant Maharaj confirmed in a brief telephone interview yesterday.
Maharaj, who is in Tobago accompanying the Prime Minister, said the proposal was costed and accepted “by both parties verbally and in good faith”.
“I expect the formal sign off tomorrow (today) or by Monday for the latest,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj stepped into the stalled negotiations during the height of the port shutdown last weekend and promised then to have the situation resolved in the “shortest possible time”.
Colin Lucas, PATT’s general manager, said the Government’s acceptance of the union proposal allowed the rest of the negotiations to move forward.
“The feedback and guidelines of the Government’s acceptance allows the negotiation for other cost and non-cost items to continue,” he said.
Annisette met with his union executive almost all day yesterday and returned to the negotiation table with Lucas and his executive to work out the rest of the items on the slate by 6 p.m. yesterday evening.
The port remained unmanned up until that time.
Acting Finance Minister Vasant Bharath, who had both proposals before him yesterday, said he did not want to comment on “such a very sensitive issue just yet”.
“I would not want to compromise the ongoing negotiations,” he said.
An insider close to the negotiation proceedings, however, broke down the union’s proposal versus the PATT offer and commended the unions on the settlement.
“It’s not a bad settlement, but we (PATT) also have to get something in return,” the source said.
He said PATT management is now seeking to adjust the shift arrangements.
“The PATT is a 24/7 operation, yet there is an existing Monday to Friday payment system with double time on weekends. The weekend shift system was never dealt with. There was never any arrangement for weekends and that has to change,” he said.