The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) issued the following statement on May 3rd 2016:
Minister of Finance Imbert, in his mid-year budget review stated that "public officers" will get half their retroactive payments by the end of June (another date in the long line of promised dates) and the other half in government bonds at the end of September or in two installments at unspecified dates in 2017.
Once again, instead of workers receiving the income for which they have already worked and which is their personal property, they are treated as if they are begging for something. Now, the term public officers actually refers to those workers who come under the jurisdiction of the public service commission and does not refer to police, prison and fire officers and to employees of the regional health authorities. It is possible that the Minister himself is referring to them all as public officers, but this must be made clear so as to not cause further confusion. We call upon the Minister to clear up the confusion and state clearly what the position is with the payment of the backpay of RHA monthly paid workers.
It is indeed curious that the Minister who has admitted that the government owes billions of dollars to contractors said not a word about meeting that obligation in his mid year review. In fact there is a deafening silence from all quarters, including from the usually voluble spokespersons for the contactors. This suggests that a deal may have already been made with the contractors and that they are satisfied with it. If this is so then this is a clear case of double standards and bias being practised against workers.
Public officers, policemen, fire officers and prison officers have stated clearly that they are not comfortable with the Minister's attempt to railroad them into accepting half their backpay in June and bonds or two tranches of the other half being paid sometime in 2017. The minister has acted illegally in trying to force his proposal down the throats of public sector workers who are represented by recognised majority unions as public officers, police, fire and prison officers are. They will not allow it. RHA monthly paid employees are not represented by a recognised majority union so we may have to swallow whatever the Minister decrees unless we come together as never before and stop being sidetracked by old talk that is taking us nowhere
The government cannot decree that workers must accept variations in their terms and conditions of work. Salary and wage levels and how they are to be paid including arrears are matters for Collective Bargaining. The Government can't decide how and when backpay is to be paid. The law mandates that these are matters for negotiations with representative unions.
In the 1980's, the NAR government illegally imposed a 10% salary cut and removed Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to public officers. Bernadette Hood-Caesar, an enrolled nursing assistant employed at the Port of Spain General Hospital, took the government to court on behalf of the Public Services Association and the Court ruled that the Government acted unconstitutionally. Its unilateral action was declared to have deprived public officers of their property without due process of law.
Government's illegal action created a debt of over $2 Billion owed to public officers and public sector workers. How and when this debt was to be paid then had to be negotiated between the Government and various employers and the public sector associations and unions. The government is quite aware that they are engaging in illegal action. In fact, the present Minister of Labour was the president of the PSA when the court finally disposed of the matter in 1997. Even worse than being illegal, the government action is unethical, immoral and discriminatory. Health workers are subsisting on 2013 salaries and the retroactive payments are an outstanding debt originating in 2011. 2016 is the last year of a new contract period but the employer is paying no attention to that fact, no consideration is given to the further slipping back of health workers when compared to their former colleagues in the public service and the others who have RMU status
Bonds have been a part of the financial system for as long as one can remember. Corporations and government have floated bonds in order to raise revenue. To do this they offer attractive rates of interest in order to attract lenders to invest in this loan instrument. If government wants to raise (borrow) money on the capital markets as they have been doing over the years then it should package an attractive offer, pay health and other public sector workers their debts and educate and encourage them to invest in their bond issue.
The government, without negotiating with public sector unions are trying to force workers to accept bonds as payment of their arrears. They have not even said under what conditions the bonds would be floated, at what interest rate, over what time period etc.
A piece of misinformation that is being peddled to play on workers’ partisan political sympathies is that the precedent of settling arrears of public officers by utilizing bonds was set in the 1990’s. This refers to the transaction of the then Patrick Manning Administration’s efforts in resolving the debt to those workers arising out of the illegal removal of Cost-of Living and the ten per cent cut in salaries under the NAR regime. The entire process and terms and conditions of the bond issue were negotiated with the unions representing public sector employees. This attempt now is a unilateral imposition.
For those workers who are between a rock and a hard place and have sympathies for the ruling party, just remember that the cost of living is skyrocketing every day as cost of fuel goes up, as avaricious merchants gouge out our eyes and as the dollar depreciates day by day against the US dollar; that workers are being retrenched and contract workers are being dispensed with.
Every day that passes (and five years have already passed with health workers’ arrears) your dollar is worth less and less, but then the Prime Minister stated that the debt owed to health workers should be treated as a savings! It is the only savings that loses value as time passes.
The NHWU calls on all employees of the RHAs to stand up and resist this assault on your property. Move past all the dividers, check those who have represented and served the interests of health workers over the last year. Let us put together a simple plan of action and implement it. Grumbling, quarrelling in the corridors, worse yet just sitting by and doing nothing will not help. This is just the beginning as we had warned, worse is yet to come. If we fail this test then heaven help us with the rest.
For further information contact Arlene Maillard # 725 8950; Keish Murrell # 716 8762
The National Workers Union (NWU) issued the following statement dated May 2nd 2016:
The National Workers Union salutes May Day as the international working class celebrates the great struggles that have been and are being waged to advance, protect and defend the interests of workers everywhere. We call for solidarity with and support for Comrade Ermine De Bique-Meade, General Secretary of the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union, who was arrested while carrying out her duty to her members.
So where are we as workers? To be blunt, workers in T&T are under the most severe pressure we have endured since the 1980’s. The deepening international capitalist crisis of overproduction has severely contracted our energy-dependent economy and the capitalists, employers and the State are adopting measures to make sure that working people and the poor pay through our noses for a crisis we had no part in creating.
Since the general election, the cost of fuel has increased twice; transportation cost, of course, is following suit; merchants are making a killing by ramping up the prices of food and pharmaceuticals; value added tax has added to the misery and sent up the prices of almost everything.
The government is illegally seeking to vary the terms and conditions of public officers and other employees of the state by attempting to bypass the collective bargaining process and imposing by decree how workers must access their arrears which go back to 2011.
The government is well aware, just as the NAR government’s 10% wage reduction and removal of COLA in the 1980’s was ruled illegal by the court, this will also be ruled illegal; but it knows that the judicial system will drag the matter on for years.
The employers, including the government, have embarked on an orgy of wage freezes and retrenchment. Arcelor Mittal, Tube City, Centrin, OAS, Repsol, Carillon, local government bodies including the San Fernando City Council, energy service companies, American Airlines, among others, have all shed jobs; contract workers throughout the public sector are being sent home in droves and this trend is set to continue.
Privatisation of state enterprises is going to be stepped up. BP, the largest of the energy vampires, is seeking to renegotiate its contract with NGC and the Atlantic Train One contract, so that they could get a bigger slice of the revenue at the expense of the treasury. Foreign onshore energy firms are calling for changes to the Petroleum Profits Tax (PPT) and the Supplemental Petroleum Tax (SPT) to reduce their tax liability.
Five employer organisations have produced a document stating that “every employee must have unfettered access to the law and the freedom to associate as they see fit, including the right to represent themselves.”
It also says that individual workers must have “the right to determine their own individual terms and conditions of employment.” and that “Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must take cognizance of the fact that many non-unionized businesses already provide a fair and equitable work environment for employ-ees...Employees in such businesses should have the ability to access employment rights and remedies without having to join a trade union.”
This strikes at the very heart of collective bar-gaining and is designed to make the trade union movement irrelevant. The irony is that the law makes allowance for workers who are not in a unionised bargaining unit to access legal remedy through unions!
The employers are moving to ensure that a massive transfer of income takes place from the pockets of working people into their pockets while they talk a lot of dotishness about sharing the burden and being patriotic, when it is clear that the whole burden has already been placed on the backs of working people, the poor and the vulnerable.
While employers have launched a massive attack on the rights and benefits of workers, many trade union leaders seem to believe that appealing to the consciences of the employers and the government will bring relief and that tripartism will ensure that that the burden is “shared.” There is no relief from those who profit from our misery. There is no way the capitalists are going to share anything – unless they are forced to do so!
While the merchants and the employers raise prices, retrench workers and seek to have trade unionism become a toothless bulldog, some trade union leaders are still calling for consultation, complaining about non implementation of the toothless Memorandum of Understanding and tripartite approaches as if they do not understand that we are involved in a vicious class struggle, the outcome of which will determine our quality of life for years to come.
While we wallow in illusions of “sharing the burden” they have already put their strategy in place to ensure that they suffer no loss from the economic crisis and that they are in fact utilising the crisis to further the goals they have always had in mind. We cannot hide from the reality of the class struggle!
There is need for a massive fight back against this ongoing assault by the employers, the capitalists and the State. If we want the laws relative to severance changed; if we want the laws restricting the right to strike changed; if we want the laws governing recognition of trade unions changed; if we want the Workers Agenda implemented, it is not good enough to simply call for the changing of those laws. We must be prepared to bring all our power to bear on those who can change the laws.
We must engage in a sustained campaign of mass mobilisation not only of our members but also the unorganised working people. Mobilisation cannot be done through the media. The workers must be involved at the branch, workplace, mass membership meeting, COSSABO and community levels.
Leadership must ground with membership, the implications of the assault by the capitalist class must be discussed thoroughly with the members and the community and guidance must be sought from them as to what they are prepared to do to bring a halt to this growing attack.
We must look at the lessons of 1989, when we stopped the then government in its tracks with the General Strike of March 6th (Day of Resistance).
Appealing to the conscience of those who exploit us is not going to cut it. We have the power of numbers and the power over production. Petty childish disunity plaguing the movement must be put aside. We are in a literal life and death struggle.
We cannot afford this nonsense about which union more militant than which union. It is ludicrous that we have NATUC and FITUN and now we have JTUM, which was a trade union forum to discuss matters of mutual interest, becoming another trade union federation made up of unions from the other federations which continue to exist.
We must get rid of illusions and deal with the reality! Let us not expect partisan political parties to act in our interest! It’s just different gangs running the same anti-worker system
The National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) issued the following statement on April 24th 2016:
NATUC unreservedly condemns the arrest and the unwarranted manhandling of Sister Ermine De Bique, the General Secretary of the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (GCWTU) and Executive Member of the National Trade Union Centre. NATUC calls on the Police Complain Authority to investigate the matter without delay.
NATUC is concerned that Sister De Bique was carrying out her legitimate trade union activities when she was arrested and the arrest therefore raises serious concerns in our minds over the intention of the arrest.
We wish to place on record, that no amount of misuse or abuse by anyone within the protective services can or will scare the labour movement in carrying out our scared responsibilities to the poor, the disadvantage in our society and the working class in Trinidad & Tobago.
Natuc further notes with concern, that the incident involving Sister De Bique has its genesis in the layoff of more than one hundred (100) workers from the South Borough Council. We are concerned that in this time when our economy is contracting, the government will implement the failed strategy of the laying off of workers on the basis that the workers are temporary workers and that the allocation for the Borough has been cut by the government.
NATUC will continue to advocate that sending workers home will only exacerbate the economic crisis. History has taught us that when you take away the purchasing power of workers, when you deny workers the right to earn wages, to provide for their families, you are in fact pouring social unrest, like gasoline, on the already economic flames of poverty and depression.
Government must be forever mindful that their failure to protect the working class will lead to the retrenchment floodgates being opened wider by private enterprise. Clico was too big to fail and the said philosophy must be articulated and practiced not in words but indeed when dealing with workers, the poor and disadvantaged.
Our economy needs job lead growth rooted in real wages and the full utilization of our productive forces.
Our Human Capital is our Economic strength and we must us our human resources fully and wisely if we are to come out of this economic crisis and all the social disharmony that can derive therefrom. If we ignore this Economic truism that retrenchment and layoff is not the answer but job lead growth is the Answer.
Natuc say together we can solve our problems. No IMF and World Bank medicine has ever cured the patient.
NATUC SAYS NO TO THE IMF.
NO TO THE WORLD BANK.
YES TO A HOME GROWN SOLUTION.
No to polarization.
No to silo. Embrace all in the interest of Trinidad and Tobago.
We can do it together.
On April 22nd 2016, the National Workers Union issued the following statement
The National Workers Union (NWU) stands in solidarity with the almost 200 casual workers laid off by the San Fernando City Council and their union the Contractors and General Workers Union (C&GWTU).
These workers are the latest victims of the capitalist crisis which has resulted in the workers of this country being forced to pay the price for a crisis which they had no part in triggering.
These workers have been thrown on the rubbish heap, to join workers of Arcelor Mittal, casual workers in other local government areas, contract workers throughout the country, OAS workers, workers at Centrin, Tube City, NGC, Repsol and other areas.
Further, the National Workers Union (NWU) condemns in the strongest possible terms the arrest of Comrade Ermine DeBique-Meade, General Secretary of the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (C&GWTU), during the course of her efforts to seek the interest of members of her union, permanent workers, who had been wrongly placed on the casual list to be laid off.
While, the government and the employers make noises about tripartism and collaboration with the unions, they are, in fact, pursuing a policy of naked assault against workers and unions in a bid to take advantage of the capitalist economic crisis to consolidate their position and gain a bigger slice of the income pie at the expense of the workers.
The National Workers Union (NWU) calls on the leadership of the labour movement to take cognisance of the concentrated assault on the workers in general and the trade union movement in particular and to initiate a campaign of mobilisation, not only of their members, but of all working people in the country.
This mobilisation must involve explaining the implications of this renewed assault on the standard of living and quality of life of working people and to get from them their views on how best to fight back against these attacks and to develop a programme aimed at putting a stop to the attempts by the employers and the state to make working people and the poor pay for a crisis that they did not create.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer. Cell: 785-7637)
On April 20th 2016, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN) issued the following statement.
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN) calls on the head of the Economic Advisory Board, Dr. Terrence Farrell to immediately apologise to the Trade Union Movement in Trinidad and Tobago, in particular, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non Governmental Organisations, FITUN, for his disrespectful statement which was reported in the electronic media, wherein he accused the Trade Unions of being all about ‘Gimme Me Gimme Me" and are mainly responsible for the Economic Morass that the Country finds itself in today.
Dr. Farrell made these statements while addressing a function hosted by the Rotary Club, wherein he also alluded to the economic challenges that the country is currently facing. What was so disingenuous about Dr. Farrell’s statement was that in the same speech, he alluded to the global trend where Saudi Arabia has dictated the price of Oil through their huge stock of reserves and are manipulating the market to ensure that they come out of this world oil price slump in a better position to service their citizens.
What the goodly doctor failed to state was the fact that he along with a slew of local Academia has bastardized the word "Diversification" for decades. They have been the ones who have given economic advice to successive Governments and have not for once admonished them for failing to diversify our economy. They went along and enjoyed the spoils with their healthy and opulent compensation packages while workers had to struggle to keep up with the escalating cost of living.
Dr. Farrell also took a stab at the CEPEP and URP Workers, but he did not state that it was successive Governments who used the same CEPEP and URP workers to buttress their support for electioneering purposes, using the less privileged in society towards their political end. Now that the economy is in crisis, Dr. Farrell looks to heap blame on the CEPEP and URP workers along with the Trade Unions.
FITUN condemns outright, this position adopted by Dr. Farrell, who, as the head of a Body that is supposed to be giving good economic advice to the Government, should seek to posit innovative strategies, commensurate with his renowned academic accolades, to take our country out of this economic morass that was created by successive Governments and their myriad of economic advisors who all claim to be economic experts and advisors.
The Trade Union Movement was not responsible for mismanaging the economy for decades; the Trade Union Movement was not responsible for the failed World Gas to Liquid Plant; the Trade Union Movement was not responsible for the abject neglect of the Agriculture Sector that has now seen us racking Billions of Dollars to support a Food Import Bill; the Trade Union Movement was not responsible for the Foreign Exchange crisis that we are now facing; the Trade Union Movement was not responsible for spending Billions of our Taxpayers Dollars on the now stalled Point Fortin Highway Project; the Trade Union Movement was not responsible for the Beetham Waste Water Project which cost Billions of Taxpayers’ Dollars and was riddled with corruption; the Trade Union Movement was not responsible for the Calder Han Fiasco that cost the country Billions of Taxpayers’ dollars.
We can go on and on with acts of malfeasance committed by successive Governments aided and abetted by those in academia who proffered their illustrious economic models and policies, all which have now resulted in the Country being in this sorry economic state.
In these circumstances, FITUN, as part of the Governments Tripartite Advisory Council, feels disrespected by the statement from the eminent Doctor, and calls on him to apologise to the Trade Union Movement and the CEPEP and URP workers. As a head of a critical body that is supposed to embrace the spirit of tripartism at this critical juncture, Dr. Farrell’s statement would only serve to anger the Trade Union Movement and place roadblocks to the efforts of tripartism. We wonder if his statement and the Government’s lethargic approach toward this process and synonymous of their ultimate intent.
IMBERT MUST GIVE DATE FOR HEALTH WORKERS BACKPAY
Not only are health workers being denied their legitimate entitlements, but are being discriminated against by the state in that other groups of workers have received their retroactive entitlements and the Minister of Finance recently assured police officers that they will receive their backpay by June/ July.
Where is the assurance for health workers? Are health workers the stepchildren of the public sector?
We are considered essential service workers according to the Industrial Relations Act and are consequently prohibited from taking industrial action in pursuit of our legitimate grievances, but when it comes to remunerating us in a timely and just fashion all pretence at being essential goes through the window.
The National Health Workers Union has pointed out time and again that while we are working on 2013 salaries (three years behind what they are supposed to be), our retroactive payments period goes back to 2011.
Former Minister of Finance Larry Howai had given a public undertaking that health workers’ backpay would have been paid by the end of November 2015. But of course he demitted office before that date. We wrote to Minister Imbert on 2015.09.18, mere days after he was sworn in, and later on 2015.10.25, informing him of the debt and making out the case for those monies to be paid immediately and critically in our second letter we warned him against his open bias against the debt owed to workers.
Minister Imbert has remained silent on the issue. We raised the issue in a letter to Prime Minister Rowley dated 2015/11/13. Again – deathly silence. It has become clear that in the estimation of governments, past and present, health care workers count for nothing and are treated with scant courtesy, indeed, gross disrespect, when it comes to satisfying our material interests. Of course, when it is election time, politicians fall all over themselves courting our votes.
Meanwhile, foreign health care company O’Grady Peyton is extremely busy recruiting our nursing staff for jobs in the United States. Given our deteriorating standard of living and the cavalier manner in which we are treated by our employers, many of our nursing personnel have accepted and are accepting these offers. This widening of the gap between approved positions in the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) and the quantity of jobs actually filled will lead to a further deterioration of the quality of health care on offer at the RHAs.
At the Public Board meeting of the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) on 2016/03/03, Chief Executive Officer, Anil Gosine, reported that there were 3,372 vacancies at SWRHA. He lamented: “The clinical ratio to patient continues to be a challenge…there is a major challenge with respect to retention and attraction of staff within our Medical (Specialized), Nursing Allied and Operational Services.”
Among the reasons for the growing exodus of staff is the disrespect shown to medical professionals by the State, including the failure to pay our health care workers their long-outstanding retroactive payments.
The National Health Workers Union calls upon the government to seriously consider, particularly in these challenging economic times, whether it is more cost effective for public funds to adequately compensate existing local staff than to train replacements or worse yet to recruit foreign staff.
The National Health Workers Union, once again, calls upon the Minister of Finance to state clearly and unambiguously when health care personnel are going to be paid their retroactive entitlements.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Keish Murrell 716 8762
On March 13th, Michael Annisette, General Secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) issued the following statement.in our ability to trust and have faith in ourselves.
NATUC therefore sees the closing of the company as a blessing in disguise and one which now affords the people of Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to pursue the acquisition of Arcelor Mittal and to make changes in the law regarding workers benefits and severance to ensure that what happened at Arcelor Mittal never happens to any other group of workers in Trinidad and Tobago ever again.
We are witnessing a world-wide phenomenon and as devastating as it is to endure, we should view this as a learning experience for all of Trinidad and Tobago. The law is clear that indebtedness to the bank takes precedence over any other financial commitments the company may have, which regrettably includes workers’ salaries, wages, pensions, etc.
In the first instance, NATUC is of the view that we should all come together, that is, labour, government and the private sector, as a tripartite grouping and use our collective wisdom to come up with a plan to acquire Arcelor Mittal and reverse the anguish that has been placed on the shoulders of the workers. We believe that if the company is managed in a specific manner, it can be profitable. We have noted the statements coming out of the company which alluded to some of the factors leading up to their decision to shut down the company and we feel that as a National Centre those issues can be addressed if we come together, under a tripartite mechanism.
This is a golden opportunity for all stakeholders to put country before individualisms and personality. We are being given the opportunity to show our creativity, innovativeness, resilience and patriotism and for this reason NATUC is calling on all stakeholders to open immediate discussions to come up with a tripartite approach to acquire Arcelor Mittal and turn the steel company around. We cannot allow multinationals like ArcelorMittal to use the global crisis to bring down trade unions and unionised workers. We call on the business community to invest in Arcelor Mittal if they are truly committed to Trinidad and Tobago, bearing in mind, that several companies, other workers and a whole community will be substantially affected by the closure of the steel plant.
We in NATUC once again express our concerns over the fact that there is no legislative protection for workers when a company goes into receivership or when a company files for insolvency. The law as it stands gives the banks full ranking and priority over any other creditors when the indebtedness is crystalized.
This is not the time for name calling nor is it the time to wash our dirty linen in public. We feel the pain of the displaced employees of Arcelor Mittal and it is for this reason that we are making an ardent call for all to demonstrate their patriotism and commitment to all workers of Trinidad and Tobago. For the love of country we are calling on all who are committed to a sustainable Trinidad and Tobago to put their money where their mouth is and engage in tripartite talks, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the lives of the employees of Arcelor Mittal are restored to some level of normalcy.
NATUC is once again making the call for tripartite discussions that deal with the economy to be put on the front burner and to be given top priority so that we can formulate a common approach to The Way Forward for Trinidad and Tobago to successfully navigate the economic global crisis that is threatening our very stability.
NATUC views the Maritime sector as being of vital importance to the economy of Trinidad and Tobago and believe that it can play a major role in combating the economic crisis that we are now facing. Within the maritime sector, workers’ wages have priority and we deem it unfair for other sectors of the economy to have the legal backing to withhold this type of protection from their workers.
Secondly we view this crisis as being the opportune time for the government to review the Severance Benefits Act and the Companies Ordinance so that legislation could be revised whereby provisions are put in place to guarantee and protect workers’ wages and severance in situations such as have occurred at Arcelor Mittal. Salaries, wages, pension and other benefits must be given some level of ranking and priority in the disbursement of assets when a company goes into liquidation or receivership. Workers must be comfortable knowing that at the end of the day and after years of loyal and steadfast service to a company, they will not be left out in the cold in the event of unforeseen closure.
It is absolutely critical for the government to take this matter to the Parliament, without any further delay and revise the Severance Benefits Act to safeguard workers benefits. No criticism, emotions or anger will resolve the situation, only the legislative protection of workers’ rights to receive legitimate benefits will suffice. Some consideration should also be given to the setting up of Employment Insurance to address issues of a similar nature.
NATUC calls on all citizens, politicians, business companies and the entire trade union movement to rally around Arcelor Mittal workers and save the jobs of the thousands of workers and their families who would be affected by the closure of the steel company. Ole talk is not an option, only positive and complete action will demonstrate our commitment to Trinidad and Tobago.
NATUC believes that there are a lot of opportunities open for Trinidad and Tobago. The use of the Port facilities and the steel plant can be a profitable combination and a thrust of diversification in that sector. NATUC says all is not lost and the closure of Arcelor Mittal gives us the golden opportunity to force the social dialogue mechanism with all stakeholders and we REPEAT WITH ALL STAKEHOLDERS, for to ignore one is to ignore all.
We reiterate our views that the closure of ArcelorMittal can be seen as a golden opportunity for trade unions, the government and the private sector to form a tripartite business and seize the opportunity to do something for the working class of Trinidad and Tobago, a venture, which we are confident will redound in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago.
A WORD TO THE WISE IS SUFFICIENT
The following statement was issued by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea on March 8th 2016.
Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) as well as all citizens of Trinidad & Tobago suffered a setback on Friday 4th March 2016, when Justice Nadia Kangaloo delivered her verbal judgement supporting the Environmental Management Authority’s December 2013 decision to award Petrotrin a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to conduct seismic surveys without having to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Seismic surveys comprise thousands of continuous underwater explosions, carried out every few seconds, over a period of several months. They penetrate deep below the seabed and throughout the ocean, and are used to determine the presence of oil/gas under the seabed.
The small High Court room in Port-of-Spain was packed with over forty (40) anxious fisher folk. They had waited for over two years and came from around the country, to be present for the judgment. They left dejected but not defeated. A written judgement is expected by 14th March.
FFOS sees this judgement as a major setback in the protection of our marine resources and livelihoods of fisher folk. The oil/gas sector has conducted scores of similar seismic surveys over the past decade. Fishermen have always claimed that after the surveys the fish disappear for many months and are slow to come back. Petrotrin issues compensation to boat owners for the duration of the survey and claim the fish return as soon as the surveys are over. There has been a major decline in fish stock nationally and worldwide attributable to multiple causes.
Although the judgement came long after the surveys was completed, FFOS had wanted the EMA to require Petrotrin to carry out an environmental assessment which would have, at the very least, gathered data to see how much damage was actually being done by the survey. This was the purpose of filing for a Judicial Review of the EMA’s decision to award Petrotrin a CEC, without them having to assess the impacts of their activity.
FFOS considers it a travesty that the EMA did not require EIAs for all the seismic activity which our marine resources have been subject to over the years. Had they done so it might have been possible to understand the cumulative impacts of these activities and distinguish them from others. Seismic surveys are known to kill fingerlings, fish eggs and damage and disorient fish in the vicinity of the area being surveyed.
In delivering her judgement Justice Nadia Kangaloo declared she was “unconvinced” by the arguments made by FFOS’ legal team (led by Reginald Armour), that the EMA’s actions were illegal or irregular. Nor was she convinced that the impacts of the seismic surveys were serious and irreversible. The justice did, however, betray her feelings about the case referring to it, strangely, as a battle between “self-styled heroes”.
Justice Nadia Kangaloo made no mention of the affidavit submitted in support of FFOS by Cathal Healy-Singh, an environmental engineer, who pointed out that the EMA had overlooked their own official internal Standard Operating Procedures in making their decision. They failed to file the answers to some seven pages of ‘check-list’ questions, designed as a decision making tool, to be signed and dated, to help the EMA determine whether or not the proposed activity should be subject to environmental assessment.
There was no evidence on file that standard internal procedures were followed by the EMA. This, according to FFOS, should have helped convince Justice Nadia Kangaloo of procedural irregularity.
Speaking after the Judgement to the media, Cathal Healy-Singh pointed out that “the travesty is that after decades of seismic surveys in our coastal waters the EMA is still none the wiser about their impacts as they have failed to require any data collection. The oil/gas sector remains unregulated. We value only its economic returns but have no value for its environmental and social losses. We do not even want to see, far less document, and measure the damage we are doing. This would have been the purpose of the environmental impact assessment.”
Also speaking after the case, Bhadase Sooknan, in whose name the case was brought, declared “again, we the small people, we down, but we not out”.
FFOS is planning a meeting of its members in March at Claxton Bay, to review in detail the judgement and what action should be taken next.
ARE HEALTH WORKERS CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD?
The announcement by the government that it is going to pay the pharmacists whom it owes for the provision of CDAP medications once again demonstrates the tremendous class bias that exists in T&T and that on a day to day basis reveals the double standards on which the society thrives.
The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) has no problem with the pharmacists being paid what they are owed, but we do have a problem with health workers not being paid what they, too, are owed. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander, but in capitalist society, Gopaul luck ent Seepaul luck, especially if Seepaul is an owner of capital and is capable of financing politicians and their parties.
The pharmacists who supply CDAP drugs are being paid after seven months. Health workers are owed retroactive payments that go back to 2011 and are constantly being jerked around as to when they will be paid.
Former Minister of Finance, Howai, had promised that health care workers and other workers in the public sector would have been paid at the end of November 2015. Present Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, at first promised to pay in January 2016. He now “promises” that health care workers would be paid by September 2016. It must be noted that health care workers had to put on their marching boots and force the government to pay their wage increase in August or they might have still been on 2010 salaries.
The class bias inherent in this capitalist society is not restricted to government policy options; it is embedded in the very law that governs the relationship between employers and workers. The pharmacists threatened to withhold CDAP services until they were paid. They, therefore, threatened to strike in order to have their interests satisfied. We have no problem with that.
What the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) does have a problem with is that the Industrial Relations Act prohibits health care workers from withholding their services, (taking strike action) in pursuit of their interests, just as the pharmacists threatened to do.
If health care workers do take strike action in pursuit of their interests, they are subject to fines and imprisonment, because they are deemed workers providing essential services. Strange that they are not deemed essential when it comes to decent salaries and civilised working conditions. Health workers, it seems, are children of a lesser god.
The very PNM government which enacted the Industrial Relations Act in 1972 is playing Russian roulette with health workers’ ability to keep their heads above water: to pay their rent, mortgages (which rates are due to increase shortly), transport costs, send their children to school, buy food etc. while fighting up with an inflation rate that has increased by over 40% since 2010.
It is clear to the NHWU that regardless of which party workers vote for, when it comes to defending their bread and butter, their class interests, working people have no friends in the government and if they do not fight to protect, defend and advance their interests crapaud smoke dey pipe. Employers, including the government, never willingly meet the demands of workers. They always have to be pressured, kicking and screaming to do so.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:Dave Smith, General Secretary National Health Workers Union 683 5305