1. Haig Community United also called the Guave Road Farmers Association is an NGO formed by the Farmers and was represented by Mr Colvin Blaize and Mr Farai Hove Masaisai of Hove & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law. The CDA was represented by Douglas Mendes SC.
2. The matter was the hearing of an Injunction brought by the Farmers to restrain the Chaguaramas Development Company from destroying crops and property belonging to the Farmers, arresting and assaulting the Farmers and carrying out Development Works on lands in and around Guave Road which the farmers have been working for more than sixty years. The issue of stopping the on going stripping of the Guave Road lands of its valuable top soil and transporting it to areas outside of Chaguaramas in what clearly is a commercial operation was also raised but was not entertained by the Judge.
3. The Injunction was an interim measure pending the hearing of the substantive action in which the Farmers are claiming possessory title to the land by way of adverse possession. Their claim is they have been in possession and control of the lands since the 1950s and in support of this, have produced aerial photography and expert professional evidence going back to this period and submitted affidavits from several persons. They have several other affidavits from persons who were actually farming in the 1960’s and items of evidence which support their claim. Their claim for possessory title does not need all of this evidence so what they have is more than sufficient support for what they seek.
4. The CDA to date have produced no evidence in support of their claim of ownership – and indeed there is evidence to support the fact that their development of lands in Chaguaramas is not being carried out legally or by way of any due process. The farmers are also challenging the CDA’s ownership rights to the land but the Judge was not inclined to hear such during the Injunction.
5. The Court ordered that written submissions be filed with regard to the interim applications made for the injunction and the matter would be heard and a decision made on the injunction on the 29th day of July 2015.
6. A procedural point was raised by Senior Counsel Mendes who stated that the NGO did not have Locus to represent their members. According to the Honourable Justice Frank Seepersad the NGO “Haig Community United” also called the Guave Road Farmers Association was only recently formed and registered as a legal entity and could not alone represent the interest of the Farmers. He ordered that the Claim be amended and all 16 farmers be named as claimants in this matter against the CDA.
7. The Judge refused to restrain the CDA from carrying out its ongoing destruction of the land and the Attorneys for the other side refused to advise his Client to provide such an undertaking. The decision of the Court has therefore allowed an organisation that has not proved its ownership rights to the land to strip and destroy what is considered to be the best agricultural lands in the country. Despite submissions by Learned Counsel for the Farmers that the ongoing destruction of the lands in Chagaramas by the CDA would render any possible decision by the Court in Favour of the farmers useless as the destruction would be irreversible. Heedless of this the Judge adjourned the matter to the 29th day of July despite the Application for the injunction being filed on the 15th day of June 2015 and time being of the essence to prevent the irreversible destruction of the land and the ongoing suffering and loss of the farmers, their families and their communities.
8. The matter is to come up for hearing again on the 29th July and until then the CDA can continue doing what they are doing on the land and to the farmers even though it may turn out that the lands do not belong to the CDA and/or the farmers rights to the lands are upheld in a subsequent matter.
9. If that takes place the actions of the CDA and those directing its agenda will have to be considered crimes and farmers will have to be substantially compensated in several ways by the taxpaying citizens of Trinidad and Tobago – and may very well end up much better off than if they are left on the land. There will also be no one held responsible for the unnecessary expenditure of public money in compensation payments, the destruction of the best agricultural lands in the country, the crimes that will have been committed against the farmers by persons in the CDA including praedial larceny of their crops, larceny of their belongings, the loss of food to the public, untold loss and destruction to communities in the West, etc.
10. Of course despite all the aforementioned and much more, the Law and the CDA’s Lawyer will be satisfied that they have done their respective jobs well and several private sector parties will again have enriched themselves at the expense of the national interest, the Exchequer and the public patrimony.
11. The farmers are not happy with the Orders of the Court or with the procedures it is insisting should be followed. An Appeal can be launched but that will result in further time being given to the CDA to continue with its “activities” - who it should be noted, have not yet proven to the Court that it is acting legally.
12. The obvious conclusion from all the aforementioned is that the farmers are being disadvantaged in all areas and the interest of the State and its citizens are being put at risk in several respects.
13. Justice Must Not Just be Done but Must Also be Seen to Be Done.
THE FYZABAD FIASCO EXPLAINED
In that statement we said: “many trade union leaders have abandoned the first principles of trade unionism: class solidarity, mass organisation, collective action, organizational democracy and political education. Instead they have taken the road of collaboration with the employers, the capitalists and the “eat a food, skin up to the highest bidder” politicians in suppressing the aspirations and the interests of their members.
Many trade union leaders have abandoned the route of self reliance and independent organisation and have attached themselves to the gangs of confidence tricksters and political hustlers masquerading as political parties in order to advance their personal interests.”
What was the jhanjat at Fyzabad about? Was it about differences in strategy to defeat the growing curse of contract labour that is destroying the prospects of workers in the public service, the state enterprise sector, the statutory authorities sector, the health sector and increasingly in the private sector and which is being used to emasculate unions, particularly the PSA?
Was the conflict on June 19th based on differences over how to tackle the growing privatisation/divestment policy of the government which is putting public funds into private purses and reducing the workforce in the public and state enterprise sectors?
Was it about how to counter the aggression of the employers in their open attack on workers as exemplified in the TCL strike and the mass dismissal of NP workers?
The increasing decibel level in the labour movement has nothing to do with ideology or strategy! It is all about labour leaders currying favour with politicians by using the Unions and workers as collateral for bargaining in pursuit of their personal gain.
The Fyzabad fiasco was about some trade union leaders assisting the employers and the political parties in dividing the working class in exchange for a seat in the House or the Senate and for an opportunity to hobnob with those who oppress their members.
Our partisan political system is based on dividing the masses along ethnic, religious and regional lines and trade union leaders who eagerly embrace this corrupt and rotten system are conscious or unconscious agents of the employers and the government. Take note: Messrs. Lambert, Abdulah, Duke, Anisette, Indarsingh, Roget, Maharaj! Today some cling to the PNM yesterday it was UNC, but say what, yesterday was yesterday and today is today. Some ally themselves with whoever is in government, though they may have been allied with the defeated party before!
While many trade union leaders seek the holy grail of political office, the ability of the unions they lead to perform basic trade union tasks has plummeted disastrously. While they spout divisive and dangerous partisan political rhetoric, they are inefficient, pay no attention to properly training their officers, do no research and are ignorant of industrial relations laws and practices.
They have failed to train Union officers, shop stewards and labour officers to efficiently handle disputes at the various levels, have become an embarrassment, are treated with derision and have become the butt of jokes in industrial relations circles.
They love to talk about issues of which they do not have a clue, make unfulfilled promises and have become TV and radio talk show trade union leaders. They do not interact with their members, do not encourage discussion and debate, fear criticism and refuse to practise self-criticism. They have no confidence in their members, are insecure in their positions, run the unions like their personal estates, never consult the workers and lead the union from the top down. They do not encourage the practice of democracy.
The National Workers Union believes that the very survival of the trade union movement rests in the hands of the younger cohort of shop floor/workplace leaders. These shop stewards and branch officers in the day to day functioning of the unions are the more important than the trade union bureaucrats who sit in their fancy offices, drive their fancy cars and make deals with corrupt politicians and employers in order to advance their personal interests.
The workplace leaders of the unions must ask themselves the question why do we tolerate the nonsense that passes for leadership in our unions? Why do we knowingly allow our leaders to engage in practices that are inimical to workers’ interest and do not put a stop to them? Why are we content to allow leaders to operate, free of the checks and balances that exist in the constitution of most unions?
It is time to wake up. It is time that workplace union leaders assume their responsibility to their members to take charge of their unions and to ensure that they operate as they were meant to operate – as institutions designed to defend, protect and advance the interests of the working class and not as watchmen for the employers and the State
ELEVATOR WOES AT SANDO GENERAL HOSPITAL
There are four elevators located at what is commonly called the “Old Hospital” all of which have been giving problems within recent times. The NHWU has been reliably informed that the service contractor RBP Lifts is owed considerable sums of money so that necessary repairs are on hold.
One of the four lifts is dedicated to the kitchen for the movement of food and only one (1) of the remaining three is working. On Saturday 20th June, a patient in advanced labour was dropped off at the hospital, not even at the Casualty Department. A Registered Nurse and a Nursing Assistant recognized the urgency of the situation, immediately placed the patient into a wheelchair and attempted to use the lift which would have taken them closest to the Maternity ward, only to find out that it was not working.
They then had to wheel her down the entire length of the hospital to access the only functional lift. After getting to the third floor they had to wheel her back up the length of the hospital to where the Maternity ward is located. While on the way the baby was born. It is fortunate for mother and child that because of the experience and competence of the staff present this did not turn out to be a tragedy. The NHWU compliments the hospital staff for their dedication to duty, competence and compassion.
However, health care continues to be a political football whereby the government and the Minister of Health are more concerned with turning sod and building new facilities while existing ones are literally going to the dogs.
The incinerator at SFGH is also constantly mal-functioning. This is critical in the disposal of bio hazardous waste; a few months ago the entire “New Hospital” (not the Teaching Hospital) was without air conditioning for weeks including operating theatres. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. The NHWU calls on the Minister to get off the TV and do the job for which he is paid.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Sylvan Wilson, Executive Officer National Workers Union 758 8933
The National Workers Union (NWU) and its affiliate the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) join with the working people of T&T in celebrating the seventy eighth anniversary of the 1937 anti-colonial general strike and insurrection which gave birth to the trade union movement and paved the way for independence.
While working people have much to celebrate, we must be clear that the rights and entitlements that we enjoy were not given to us by the employers, the capitalists and the government; they were won through hard, sometimes bloody struggles. Some workers lost their livelihoods, their families, their freedom and even their lives so that the rest of us could enjoy a decent quality of life if not a decent standard of living.
While we celebrate this June 19th, there is a profound sense of unease enveloping the organised workers movement that the hard won rights and freedoms that we have are under severe and constant attack by the employers, the capitalists and their enforcers in the government.
Since the structural adjustment programme inflicted upon us by the International Monetary Fund in the late 1980’s and gleefully implemented by successive governments, the trade union movement has been in retreat.
Since 2008 the NWU has been pointing out that many trade union leaders have abandoned the first principles of trade unionism - class solidarity, mass organisation, collective action, organisational democracy and political education. Instead they have taken the road of collaboration with the employers, the capitalists and the “eat a food, skin up to the highest bidder” politicians in suppressing the aspirations and the interests of their members.
Many trade union leaders have abandoned the route of self reliance and independent organisation and have attached themselves to the gangs of confidence tricksters and political hustlers masquerading as political parties in order to advance their personal interests
The employers no longer treat the trade union movement with respect. They laugh at us as we carry out their programme of attacking each other and dividing the working class. They understand that as long as we refuse to rely on our own efforts to build a powerful, democratic, educated, trained and efficient labour movement, we will remain tools of the employers and lap dogs of the political prostitutes in and out of office.
Our leaders seem to have forgotten that the strength of the labour movement is our power over production and our ability to mobilise large numbers of workers to take collective action to advance, protect and defend our interests.
Mobilisation no longer involves going to the workers, informing them and engaging with them in discussion and dialogue in order to seek clarity and to unite around an agreed plan of action. Mobilisation now seems to be about press conferences, sound bites on the TV, and trade union leaders bigging up themselves.
Trade union leaders seem to fear their members. This has resulted in power in the unions being shifted away from the shop floor, from the hands of the shop stewards and branch officers into the hands of bureaucrats at head office.
Trade union leaders no longer command the respect of the masses of working people and the poor. Trade unionists are being seen as opportunist bottom feeders, like lawyers or insurance agents, who are not prepared to sacrifice for the good of their members; who do not have the intestinal fortitude to face up to the power of the employers and the state and to hold the course despite the pressures they may have to endure. Even when trade union leaders were disliked they were respected. This is no longer the case.
We are going into a period of a long election campaign which is designed to divide the working class along the lines of ethnicity, religion and regional lines. After the dust clears, while there may be a different gang of looters of the public purse in place, the working people and the trade union movement will be in the same position they are in today.
Elections don’t disturb the power structure. The power of capital cannot be voted out of existence. It must be dismantled root and branch. Only the organised power of the working class has that potential.
We repeat a statement we made in 2013: “The task is not to sneak in to the neo-colonial parliament on the backs of one or the other corrupt, capitalist-financed political party but to patiently build a mass movement through working class education, agitation and direct action. When such a movement is built and entrenches itself among the masses, the question of power will become a live issue.”
The trade union movement has the capacity through the deployment of the power of numbers acting collectively and in solidarity and through its power over production, to ensure whichever party forms the government it cannot afford to ignore the demands of the working people.
Trade union membership has been shrinking over time. One estimate suggests that just 16% of the labour force is unionised today. Organising the unorganised is the essential task facing the trade union movement. Hundreds of thousands of workers have no experience of union organisation. If we do not organise them, they will weaken the potential power of the working class and they may be used against the organised trade union movement.
Short term contract labour has taken over the public service and the health sector. The RHA’s exploit workers mercilessly through the use of short term contracts married to an appraisal policy that encourages discrimination and victimisation and is designed to perpetuate a master and servant relationship.
Workplaces are dominated by casual and temporary workers; and young and not so young workers are grievously advantaged under the guise of being OJT’s. Domestic workers are still discriminated against in law; the Industrial Relations Act is still in place; it still takes years to gain a recognition certificate and all political parties are committed to the neo-liberal policy of international capital of wage suppression, deregulation, the dismantling of the public service and privatisation. Elections will not change that reality!
Comrades, we have a lot of work to do, but the capacity to do so can only be built by democratising the trade union movement, developing attitudes and structures where the voice of the rank and file holds sway and their concerns acted upon.
We must see it as our duty to participate in our own affairs in the branches, the General Councils, the Conferences and the Cossabos and we must appreciate that the union is not the president or general secretary. The trade union is I, You, We all together. How strong and organised the labour movement is, is more important than who wins the next election.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer. Cell: 785-7637)
TRADE UNIONS MUST UNITE TO DEFEAT IRA AMENDMENT BILL
The National Workers Union (NWU) congratulates the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) for the firm and unyielding stand it took in demanding that the government withdraw the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill, which the NWU alerted the nation the government is seeking to pass on Wednesday 20th May.
The NWU further salutes Senator James Lambert, the President of NATUC and the leader of the largest trade union in the country and a government senator, for taking a clear position that he is prepared to place the interests of the working class above his partisan interest.
The NWU urges NATUC to ensure that the members of their constituent unions are fully informed about the consequences of the Bill. We urge that they be brought into the discussion as to how to defeat the Bill if the government ignores the call of NATUC and the call of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN) to withdraw the Bill and instead seek to consult with the trade unions and other stakeholders before another step in the process is taken.
We, therefore, call on NATUC to encourage its constituent unions to attend the Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers (COSSABO) organised for Monday 25th May at OWTU headquarters in San Fernando.
It is only by presenting a united front and pursuing a common strategy to defeat the Bill that the government will realise that the trade union movement is prepared to move heaven and earth to defend its interests against the naked attack on the very existence of the movement contained in the Bill.
It is noteworthy that the government is prepared to hold its hand on the Cyber Crime Bill at the behest of the Publishers and Broadcasters Association which represents the interests of the media conglomerates, but is quite prepared to treat the urgings of the trade union movement with disdain and scorn.
Far from putting workers at the centre of development as they promised in 2010, the ruling party has privileged the interests of themselves, their financiers, transnational energy corporations and capitalist conglomerates.
The trade union movement in particular and the working class as a whole must learn the lesson that no one will advance, protect and defend their interests but themselves.
WITHDRAW THE INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AMENDMENT BILL NOW!
ONE UNION, ONE STRUGGLE! ALL UNIONS DO BATTLE!
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer. Cell: 785-7637)
IRA AMENDMENT BILL MUST NOT BE PASSED WITHOUT CONSULTATION!
Information has come to the National Workers Union (NWU) that the government intends to pass the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill in Parliament on Wednesday May 20th, even in the face of strident protestations from the trade union movement.
The government, it seems, is determined to pass the bill and hustle it into the Senate regardless of the views of those whom the Bill directly affects; even if it means varying the clauses that require a three fourths majority, which it does not have; even if it means steam rolling the deliberate procedures which usually apply when debating and enacting laws.
The track record of the government, when examined, reveals that they do not care about consulting those whom their policies and programmes directly affect and that they have no compunction about ambushing the population with measures which have never been discussed. One only has to remember the infamous Section 34 and the attempt to sneak into the law the notorious run off proposal which the constitution commission never discussed and which they are coming with again.
The attitude of the politicians in power fits into a tradition of authoritarianism and bullying that has prevailed since independence in the relationship between politicians and the labour movement. In 1965, the then Eric Williams administration declared a state of emergency in County Caroni and on the same day introduced the Industrial Stabilisation Act which went through all its stages in both the House and the Senate in twenty four hours and was proclaimed two days later. The Industrial Stabilisation Act, among other things, outlawed strikes.
In 1972 the Eric Williams administration, enacted the Industrial Relations Act during a state of emergency when some trade union leaders were in detention. This law, among other things, severely restricted workers ability to join a trade union of their choice. Of course consultation was out during a state of emergency.
The government, therefore, is continuing the long-standing tradition of trampling upon the interests of the people and adopting an attitude that the only things that count are those which serve the personal, sectoral and class interests of the politicians and their paymasters and the devil take the hindmost when it comes to the interest of working people.
The National Workers Union calls upon the leadership of the trade union movement to demand that the government cease all efforts to pass this bill so that the leadership of the trade union movement can make a rigorous analysis of the bill and consult with its membership through the Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers (COSSABO) scheduled for Monday 25th May.
The National Workers Union urges the leadership of the trade union movement to quickly ramp up its mobilisation efforts to resist the government’s attempt to impose its distorted and perverted agenda on the workers under the guise of dealing with the Workers Agenda, which they ignored for five years. Instead of putting the workers at the centre of development we are being pushed to the sidelines to be further exploited and browbeaten by the employers. We will have no more of it!
One Movement! One Struggle! All unions do battle!
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer. Cell: 785-7637)
It is cause for great suspicion that five weeks before parliament is to be dissolved, this bill has come up for debate. For more than thirty years the trade union movement has been submitting its views on the amendment and or/repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, which we have always viewed as being an anti-worker act designed to serve the interest of employers and to keep the working class “in its place.”
It is worthy of note that the first piece of anti-labour legislation, the Industrial Stabilisation Act of 1965, was rushed through all its stages in one day in Parliament by the Eric Williams administration. This Act prohibited strikes and was designed to serve the interests of foreign capital which was being sought through the industrialisation by invitation initiative.
In 1972, the Industrial Relations Act replaced the Industrial Stabilisation Act. It was enacted during a state of emergency by the Eric Williams administration and placed severe restrictions on workers ability to join a trade union of their choice and was designed to stifle the revolutionary mood of the masses which had erupted in 1970.
Today we have yet another attempt by the gatekeepers of the employers to attack the rights of workers and trade unions by including in the Bill a clause which enables a worker who may not even be a member of a union to trigger a process which can lead to the decertification of that union if the union does not effectively represent that worker who pays no dues to the union.
This surely is an attempt to undermine the financial base of unions and make us impotent in our task to defend, advance and protect the interests of the working class. This must be resisted with all the might of the trade union movement. While the Minister of Labour, a renegade trade unionist, babbles about having consulted with the trade union movement, the first time we saw the draft bill was when it was laid in the House on May 1st.
The National Workers Union is in the process of analysing the Bill and will soon publish an in-depth statement. In the meantime we have seen enough to recognise that this Bill if it becomes law will constitute the most serious assault on the labour movement since the 1970’s.
What is striking about these three attempts to repress the trade union movement through legislation is that sell-out trade union leaders have joined with the government to attack the very interests they purport to represent. In 1965, these sell-out artists were led by Carl Tull; in 1972, by Clive Spencer and the leaders of the Labour Congress; today, by Errol McLeod and Rudranath Indarsingh.
The National Workers Union calls
upon Senator James Lambert, leader of the
The National Workers Union calls upon the Labour Movement to convene a Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch officers (COSSABO) as soon as possible, to not only discuss the Bill, but to devise a strategy to defeat this Bill and force the government to withdraw it.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer. Cell: 785-7637)
On May 8th 2015 the following statement was issued by Joseph Remy, President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs:
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organizations, FITUN, would like to express its grave concerns with respect to the Bill that was laid in the House of Representatives on Friday 1st May, 2015, by the Minister of Labour, Small and Micro Enterprise Development, to amend the existing Industrial Relations Act, the IRA.
Our preliminary review of the provisions contained within this Bill sends some very worrying signals to FITUN and by extension all Trade Unions within its fold. While we have not had the opportunity to do an in-depth analysis of the entire Bill, we have observed and carefully noted "Part VA" of the Bill whose heading;
"CANCELLATION OF CERTIFICATE OF RECOGNITION AND OTHER SANCTIONS FOR FAILURE TO REPRESENT A MEMBER OR WORKER",
is of major concern to us. The provisions contained within this Part, makes it mandatory for a Trade Union to represent a worker, even though that worker refuses to join the Union and pay Union Dues. In essence, this effectively says to workers that they don't have to be a dues paying member of a Union to be given representation by the Recognized Majority Union. We see this as strangling and choking the Unions ability to operate and give effective representation to all its members.
In addition to this provision, "Part VA", gives those same non members of the Union the right to Petition the Industrial Court to seek to have the Trade Union's Certificate of Recognition cancelled if they feel that as non-members, they were not given effective representation.
These new provisions are diametrically opposed to the positions adopted in recent public statements made by the Minister of Labour, Small and Micro Enterprise Development, who, albeit wrongfully, alluded to his Government’s efforts to save three (3) Unions from the threat of the Cancellation of their Certificate of Recognition in 2010, when in fact the attempt to cancel the Certificate of Recognition of those Trade Unions was made in 2009.
In addition, they are totally opposed to the recommendations of the Workers Agenda of 2010.
FITUN has also observed that there are other provisions contained within this Bill which are aimed directly at the heart of the Trade Union Movement. Once again, just as happened when the Industrial Stabilization Act and subsequently the Industrial Relations Acts were enacted, we are seeing an obscene act of collusion between the Government, the Employer Class and Big Business, in collaboration with those reactionary and backward elements of the Trade Union Movement to curtail the progressive march of the Independent Trade Unions.
These provisions, if allowed to become Law, will see the wanton exploitation of workers and the entrenchment of Contract Work in Trinidad and Tobago. Workers would be left more defenceless against the rampaging exploits of unscrupulous Employers who would use every opportunity to exploit and victimize workers’ and disenfranchise the work place democracy that was engendered by the progressive Trade Union Movement.
What is quite disturbing is the fact that as a Federation, we were not consulted on this Draft Bill before it was laid in Parliament. Oh what a shame on those who are supposed to know better! It is also a crying shame that these draconian provisions are perpetrated on workers by those who cosmetically cloaked themselves in the robes of Trade Unionism in the past, but now that they have tasted the seductive cocktail of state power, they have brazenly stripped themselves naked and have exposed their selfishness, greed and treacherous tendencies.
FITUN is calling on all right thinking Trade Unionist to take a stand against this attack on the Trade Union Movement. We demand that this Bill be withdrawn from the Parliament and the Trade Union Movement be allowed the opportunity to examine its provisions, thereafter there must be a period of genuine consultation between all affected parties and interest groups to arrive at a way forward for any amendment to the Industrial Relations Act. We commit to mobilize all workers to mount a strong challenge against this anti-worker and anti-Trade Union Bill.
On 2015-05-05 the National Health Workers Union wrote the following letter to Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago
We are now corresponding with you as to why, not only is this absolutely necessary, to avoid the complete breakdown of the health care system, but what can be done in the short term to give the system the kiss of life, so that the people of Trinidad and Tobago can benefit from an efficient, and affordable system, something from which they are certainly not benefitting now.
The minister has begun to backpedal on the ridiculous changes he announced, only because of the stiff resistance his measures faced across the health sector from the unions and professional associations.
Under the watch of Minister of Health Dr. Fuad Khan the health system, dysfunctional since the 1950’s, has reached a new low. When the person who is charged with the responsibility for ensuring that citizens have a reliable and affordable public health system blames the people he leads for his inability to do so, then he is an abject failure as a manager/leader and must be relieved of his responsibility.
If you don’t like the job, Minister Khan tells health workers, you can leave! What a simple, elegant solution! How will the workers leaving solve the problems of the public health system? According to official statistics, in the North Central Regional Health Authority alone, there are, at least, six hundred and fifty vacancies to be filled, and in the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) there are three thousand four hundred and thirteen (3413) vacancies, nine hundred and ninety-two (992) of them being nursing vacancies.
NURSE TO PATIENT RATIO
According to the World Health Organisation, the nurse to patient ratio should be one nurse to six patients. This is the recommended ratio to ensure quality care is given. At San Fernando General Hospital the nurse to patient ratio is most times closer to one nurse to twenty two patients and this has been made worse since the advent of the Teaching Hospital. This is unsafe and puts both nurse and patient at risk.
In a statement issued on 2014-12-31 by nursing personnel at the San Fernando General Hospital and the Teaching Hospital it is stated that the staff shortages “result in long hours, excessive overtime, tired workers, denial of legitimate leave etc. and this must negatively impact the quality of health care to the population.”
The statement goes on to say: “Overwork, frustration and a total lack of respect by those in authority for our efforts coupled with a lack of appreciation for all of us who work overtime and extra duty for minimal compensation in order to keep the hospital running is what we tolerate every day.”
If in the midst of such debilitating shortages, the goodly Minister can rant and rave at health care personnel and attempt to show them the door! On the surface it makes no sense, but when it is considered that in some quarters the minister is referred to not as the Minister of Health but as the Minister for the advancement of private health care controlled by his medical entrepreneur colleagues, it does begin to make sense.
It is becoming clearer that the Minister is not really interested in ensuring in the words of the Health Sector Reform Programme Project Completion Report dated July 1996 in improving “the health status of the population of Trinidad and Tobago by promoting wellness and providing affordable quality health care in an efficient and equitable manner.”
Instead, this Minister who did not know he could not maintain his private practice while sitting in Cabinet, is most interested in promoting the External Patients Programme (EPP) which has been described as benefitting a clique of medical doctors masquerading as public officers in the public health system while actually operating a private hospital sector funded by the state.
This scandalous situation has moved from one where medical capitalists masquerading as doctors would whisper in patients ears that they should attend their private hospitals to one where public health institutions have become a gathering station for those in need of medical procedures.
Public health institutions now play the role of holding bays and clearing houses for the routing of patients into the arms of the medical mafia and the state pays – all very legal and above board as are many instances of looting public funds for private enrichment.
This situation will continue to plague the system as long as these masqueraders are allowed to work in both the public and private health systems. As the election approaches there seems to be a mad scramble to squeeze out every cent from the public coffers as the system is now being extended to sixteen private dialysis centres and through the nefarious public-private partnership two centres are slated to be built in collaboration with Comprehensive Nephrology Services Ltd and Biomedical Medical Technology Ltd. The first company, which very few know anything about, is based at Lamp Post 105 Monroe Road and the other at 137 Eastern Main Road, St. Augustine. The terms of the public-private partnership have not been revealed; neither have the track records of the two firms, which seem to exist only on paper.
In his speech on Public Private Partnership at the Hyatt on Tuesday November 1st, 2011 the Minister of Finance spoke of privatising public utilities, ports, airports, health care provision and pensions.
When it is taken into consideration that from the very early days of your administration your government opted for a policy of widespread divestment/privatisation, it would be naïve of us to believe that Minister Khan’s position is peculiar to himself and not to your government.
According to the Alma Ata declaration coming out of the International Conference on Primary Health Care in September 1978 and which was co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation Health: "which is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, is a fundamental human right and that the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important world-wide social goal …”
Your government seems prepared to violate this fundamental human right at the altar of filling the pockets of your supporters and friends with public funds which are supposed to be utilised for the public good and not for the private accumulation of capital.
The Minister was cited in a newspaper article as saying: “You can’t be tired or frustrated from the time you enter to when you leave…there are a lot of people who want to come in as caregivers.”
How come with the horrendous shortages in staff and with so many people wanting to come in as caregivers, the staffing situation has not been improved. Does the Minister not realise that the very people who come into the health system with high ideals and expectations quickly become demoralised and burnt out when they have to operate under the horrific conditions subsisting in the public health system?
These conditions in all the Regional Health Authorities include: serious deficits in terms of equipment staff, medication, utensils and everyday products. According to Senator Dr. Victor Wheeler, in moving a motion at the fifteenth sitting of fifth session of the tenth parliament on Tuesday January 20th 2015, calling for a comprehensive review of the regional health authority system.
With respect to the other powers of the RHA—operating, construct, maintain equipment—this certainly has been substandard. It is not adequate…We have in 2014 new hospitals being built, when currently, for the hospitals that are in existence we have a shortage of specialists, shortage of nurses, shortage of midwives, shortage of lab managers, shortage of staff. My concern is, when these new hospitals that are planned to be built are opened, I am just wondering where we are going to get the staff from” Dr. Wheeler is himself an employee of a regional health authority.
Dr. Wheeler also stated: “Because many of the workers in the Regional Health Authority system were on contract, the environment for victimization flourished, and the introduction of the RHA system in Trinidad and Tobago brought a lot of uncertainty and instability,” and also said: “the manner in which permanent appointment was given to health care personnel did not demonstrate any logic or basis by which some people were given permanent employment, and others were not.”
This assessment of Dr. Wheeler’s dovetails with a statement issued by the National Workers Union on June 6th 2014 which stated: “Management of the RHA’s is based on political allegiance and not on providing a first class health service to the citizens. The industrial relations are abysmal and lead to low morale and frustration on the part of employees who are not connected to the party in power...”
Because there are no recognised majority unions in the RHA’s, except for the National Union of Government and Federated Workers which represents daily paid employees throughout the RHA’s and the Medical Professionals Association, which represents doctors in the South West Regional Health Authority, compensation packages are falling behind and terms of work do not evolve to raise the standards of the conditions of work. Because of the political intervention in day to day operations of the RHA’s hiring and promotions are not transparent. Incompetent management and horrible industrial relations also contribute to the backlog.
Dr. Khan announced thirteen new regulations at health institutions which are to take effect from May 1st (two days after his grand announcement). He boasted: “I have to formulate a system and a plan if the system is not working which was there for 20 or 30 years. I have to find something in the interim to fix patients’ safety.”
FOUNT OF ALL WISDOM
This is precisely where the problem lies! Government Ministers believe that because they sit in cabinet, they suddenly become the fount of all wisdom! Instead of consulting with those who are in the kitchen and feeling the heat, he rolls out grand plans that he has plucked from the air and attempts to impose them upon those who have to implement them.
With whom did Dr. Khan consult to come up with his new rules? Certainly not with the health care workers! This is not surprising. This has always been the style of those who are charged with managing the health care system. According to the statement of the nursing personnel in San Fernando cited earlier: “Anyone who understands the structure of the SWRHA and by extension the Ministry of Health would know that nurses are not consulted on any decision, even those that directly affect us”.
According to the newspaper report (Daily Express April 30th 2015) “Khan said the Regional Health Authority system was supposed to address issues regarding the professionalism of the health care worker through appraisals and contracts, but the system has failed...The RHA system has collapsed, because everyone is being made permanent. At the end of the three or four years you are now called a permanent employee to continue your permanent behaviour,” he said.
The contempt with which the Minister holds the employees of the health system has now become pellucidly clear. The Minister believes that workers should have a master-servant relationship with their employers. He believes that workers must not have job security and should be kept in a situation of limbo when it comes to being able to plan for their future.
The truth is that throughout the RHA’s and more and more in the public service and in the private sector, employers are opting for a contract labour system which eschews permanent employment in favour of rank exploitation and which also makes it difficult for these workers to exercise their constitutional right to join a trade union.
In the RHA’s contract employment is the favoured form of employment and contracts are varied at will making these workers incapable of organising their business going forward in terms of bank loans, mortgages, significant investments etc. Instead of advancing the interests of health care workers by moving them away from the contract system, the Minister whinges about permanent workers’ behaviour and moans and whines as if to imply that permanent employment should be done away with.
The Minister exposes his shocking ignorance about the situation in the health sector over which he presides by making the unbelievable statement that in offending situations, doctors could be suspended, but nurses could not since they were protected by unions. Does Dr. Khan not know that except for the daily paid workers and the doctors in the South West Regional Authority, there are no unions in any of the RHA’s that have recognised majority union status, which means that these workers are not covered by a collective agreement that spells out their terms and conditions of work?
The Public Service Association is prohibited by the Industrial Relations Act from gaining recognised majority union status for health and hospital workers, the Registered Nurses Association which was recently transformed into a union seems to be concentrating on only organising nursing personnel and the National Health Workers Union is in the process of organising monthly paid workers throughout the RHA’s but has not yet reached critical mass in order to make an application to the Recognition Board, although that time is not too far away.
In any case if disciplinary action is to be taken against any worker in this country, whether unionised or not, whether working in a fast food restaurant or as a doctor in a public or private institution, it has to be demonstrated that the action is for just cause, the worker has the right to be heard in her own defence and to be afforded due process in pursuing the matter. It is embarrassing to say the least that a minister in the government of Trinidad and Tobago has no clue about basic matters like these.
Dr. Khan said he would authorise the use of cameras by patients or relatives to capture footage of the care they receive by health care personnel. Is he also going to authorise health care personnel to capture footage of the treatment meted out to them by frustrated members of the public or footage of the shady dealings taking place at senior management level on an everyday basis when it comes to dealing with equipment and violation of procedures in the hospitals.
While much has to be done to provide an efficient, reliable and affordable health system which would involve a comprehensive review of the health system and radical action to bring it up to scratch, in the interim, there are many short term measures that can be taken.
-The National Health Workers Union, therefore, calls for the dismissal of Dr. Fuad Khan as Minister of Health. If he remains in the portfolio, do not be surprised if a massive revolt erupts throughout the public health care sector with consequences which can only be described as catastrophic. To be forewarned is to be forearmed!
-The dual track system of senior medical personnel operating in both the public and private health care systems must be abolished.
-The horrendous contract system must be done away with, so that our workers may enjoy job security, without which they cannot properly plan the future of their families and have no access to mortgage loans etc.
-Mechanisms must be put in place to fill the thousands of vacancies in the public health care system.
In the service of the working class.
T&T WORKERS REPLACED BY SOUTH AMERICAN WORKERS ON POINT FORTIN HIGHWAY
The National Workers Union (NWU) calls upon the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO), the Ministry of National Security and the Licensing Authority to explain why NIDCO is allowing OAS Construtora, the Brazilian firm building the Point Fortin Highway, to import hundreds of South American workers to operate as truck drivers, excavator operators, graders and even to do masonry and carpentry.
Not only are these workers doing jobs that citizens of T&T have been doing for decades, but are, in fact, displacing nationals of this country. These workers, from all reports, hail from Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela.ot only are these workers doing jobs that citizens of T&T have been doing for decades, but are, in fact, displacing nationals
The National Workers Union reminds the country that OAS Construtora is deeply involved in the corruption scandal in Brazil where in a massive money laundering scandal at Petrobras, Brazil’s state run Oil Company. OAS overpriced construction projects on Petrobras refineries and bribed politicians to get state construction contracts.
Several OAS executives were arrested when Brazilian police raided OAS headquarters in São Paulo last year including the head of its main construction division. In November last year José Adelmário Pinheiro Filho, president of OAS, was arrested and was only released under conditions of house arrest a few days ago.
The company, which has been suspended from bidding for government contracts has found it difficult to refinance debt and borrow new cash, has failed to pay interest on hundreds of millions of dollars of global bonds and other debt instruments. The company has filed for bankruptcy in the Brazilian courts.
Fitch, the rating firm, has cut OAS rating to C, meaning that its bonds are now considered junk bonds and have stated that OAS and its subsidiaries are likely to default on their debt in the near future.
OAS has been building a subway system in São Paulo since the mid 2000s. Nearly ten years on less than 13% of the project has been completed. It one of the construction teams building the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, the largest water power project in the world, and the cost overrun on that dam run into billions.
This is the company that the government has folded to its bosom to undertake the largest infrastructural project in the country’s history – a company deeply mired in money laundering, graft and corruption and infamous for massive cost overruns on its megaprojects. The relationship between OAS and the government of T&T seems to be birds of a feather sticking together.
Carson Charles, the president of NIDCO, has been cited in the media as saying the South American workers, a further one hundred and fifty of whom arrived on the Golconda camp on Saturday, were brought in because of a labour shortage in critical areas. So, all of a sudden citizen of T&T no longer drive Heavy T vehicles, are unable to operate construction equipment, to do masonry, carpentry and steel bending. Mr. Charles must explain why the sudden influx of hundreds of these workers.
He must reveal what are the conditions to which these workers are subjected; how does their remuneration compare to that of locals doing the same job; how much does it cost to house them; where are they housed; why are locals being forced to train them; whether nationals are being terminated in favour of these workers?
Carson Charles has a duty to answer these questions because more than seven billion dollars in public funds are being expended on this controversial project and it is the right of citizens to know how their money is being spent, particularly when there is a suspicion that some of it is being routed into the pockets of migrant workers who may be the unwitting pawns in a massive money laundering scheme, given the history of OAS Construtora and the well-known venality of our eat-a-food politicians.
The National Workers Union calls upon the Ministry of National Security to explain why these workers have been granted work permits, as Carson Charles claims; what are the conditions governing the granting of these permits and what is the time frame for which these work permits are valid? If they have not been granted work permits why are they being allowed to work in T&T to the detriment of local workers?
The National Workers Union calls upon the Licensing Authority to say whether the South American truck drivers and heavy equipment operators have been granted licenses to operate equipment in T&T; if they have not been so granted what is the Authority doing about the situation? The Authority must say whether they are aware of any of these workers being involved in an accident and whose “permit” was in Spanish.
The National Workers Union calls upon the government to say whether this influx of South American workers onto the Point Fortin Highway project is to ensure that the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway is completed before the elections are held.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer. Cell: 785-7637)