The Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union (TIWU) is outraged at the summary dismissal by the management of the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) of thirteen workers, including three union branch officials on 23rd September 2009.
Our outrage is doubly compounded by the filing by PTSC of an Industrial Relations offence against the union with a view to having the union de-certified as the recognized majority union for workers employed at PTSC.
The dismissed workers were not given a chance to be heard nor to defend themselves against the spurious charges that management claimed arose out of an investigation in which the workers were not allowed to participate. This is a gross violation of the principles of natural justice and the union views management’s action as harsh, oppressive and unjust.
On 15th September 2009, the Minister of Labour applied for and was granted an ex-parte injunction to restrain TIWU and its members at PTSC from “taking and/or continuing to take industrial action whether by way of protests, boycotts, sympathy strikes, refusal to work...”
The injunction talks about restraining protests. The last time we looked, there was no law that made protests illegal. But the Manning regime certainly seems to believe so, if we look at their move to shut down anti-smelter and trade union protests during the Summit of the Americas.
This injunction was sought while discussions were taking place between the corporation and the union at the Ministry of Labour, surely a mark of extremely bad faith. The discussions were over the long standing issues of the removal of parking facilities from the workers which resulted in workers’ vehicles being vandalised and stolen; the provision of a paddy bus for workers so that they could take up duties in good time to serve the travelling public and the failure of the company to eliminate the mosquito infestation of the PTSC compound in Port of Spain. The infestation had already resulted in workers contracting the deadly dengue fever infection.
Workers had quite rightly and in accordance with the provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act declined to operate in such a dangerous environment, after many complaints to the management which were ignored. The Occupational Safety and Health Act states: “15. An employee may refuse to work or do particular work where he has reason to believe that—(a) there is serious and imminent danger to himself or others or unusual circumstances have arisen which are hazardous or injurious to health or life;”
According to International Labour Convention 155 Article 13 (1981):
“A worker who has removed himself from a work situation which he has reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to his life or health shall be protected from undue consequences in accordance with national conditions and practice.”
Yet the Minister secured an injunction to force the workers to work in a mosquito-infested environment under conditions that are clearly hazardous to their health and dispatched armed police to enforce the injunction. These armed police officers attempted to substitute themselves for supervisors and tried to issue work instructions to PTSC workers. It seems that our republic is headed along the road of a police state.
In a statement issued on 2009-07-10 TIWU called upon the trade union movement to throw “its full and active support behind the workers of TSTT and their union the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) as they come under attack from their employer and the State. Failure to do so will result in ever-increasing attacks on trade unions and workers as they exercise their hard-won rights and pursue their interests.” Prophetic words indeed!
We further stated:
“One management official was reported to have said of the WASA massacre that the government has deep pockets which means that the statutory authority was quite willing to wrongfully dismiss workers and bear he financial consequences “down the road” in order to cow and intimidate the rest of their workforce. This seems to be the new thinking in the State sector and TSTT seems quite prepared to adopt the WASA model.”
PTSC has now jumped on the bandwagon.
In a letter to the trade union movement, dated July 23 2009 the National Workers’ Union warned:
“the government has decided to break the trade union movement by dismissing officers and activists whether the dismissals hold up in court or not...if the trade union movement wants to mount an industrial relations response to this vicious all-out assault on the rights, benefits, entitlements and, more importantly, freedoms of workers, the state and the capitalists are certainly not going down that road...
They understand clearly that the industrial relations arena is no longer capable of containing the class struggle...and are quite prepared to wage an economic, political and military struggle against the working class and the trade union movement in order to secure their class interests which depend on the continuing exploitation of labour and the suppression of the political rights of working people and the poor”.
WASA workers felt the first hammer blow, followed by TSTT workers, now the bus workers are under the gun. All workers employed with the State are under serious threat. Who shall be next? Dock workers? T&TEC workers? MTS workers? Petrotrin Workers?
What is clear is that if the workers of state entities and their unions adopt a business as usual attitude, they are going to be picked off section by section and their right to freedom of association, assembly and collective bargaining are going to be consigned to the garbage heap of history.
Rest assured that the Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union is not operating in a business as usual mode but is going into high gear to fulfil its mandate to protect and defend its members and the broader working class. We respectfully suggest to our comrades in the trade union movement that they get with the programme.
25 September 2009