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posted 2 Jan 2013, 12:51 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 2 Jan 2013, 12:53 ]
Bigwu President Vincent Cabrera
The Year 2012 can be described accurately as twelve months of incessant struggle by trade unions and workers against the wage restraint policy of the Peoples Partnership Government. This struggle manifested itself in various forms, including demonstrations, picketing, cossabos and rallies where workers assembled in their thousands to discuss overarching issues as well as specific matters affecting workers at the workplace. 

The trade union movement was able to break the shackles of the five percent imposition, although some state sector employers have stubbornly persisted with five percent wage offers on the bargaining table. 
The nine percent victory of the Petrotrin workers led by the OWTU has been accepted by a number of other trade unions. In all of this it must not be forgotten that the BIGWU has been able to negotiate agreements with percentage increases of fifteen percent. We now see the amusing development where associations in the public sector have been attempting to reopen negotiations after they ill-advisedly accepted five percent agreements. 
BIGWU will not shirk from its responsibility to both engage and confront the government, as we continue our efforts to negotiate fair salary increases for workers in a dozen state sector organizations where salary offers by those managements resemble those accepted by the PSA. There can be no industrial peace if those employers continue to engage in meaningless negotiations, designed to frustrate workers into acceptance of extremely low salary increases. We have began a process of engagement of Minister Larry Howai in discussions aimed at resolution of several agreements; should these efforts not bear fruit, workers will be called upon to engage in legitimate forms of protest actions. 

BIGWU represents workers at some of the most profitable financial institutions in the country, boasting of billion dollar profit figures. Yet these employers have been attempting to force the Union into settlements which can only be described as unfair. The central issue here is the great level of inequity and inequality which exists in the labour market in the financial sector. 
Managerial honchos in the banking system continue to pay themselves substantial and secret financial bonuses. They emphasise the maximization of shareholder value at the expense of workers’ emolument levels and their standard of living. Greed and capitalist values are the order of the day. This labour market is characterized by the production of millionaires on the one hand and the working poor on the other hand. In the New Year BIGWU will publish details of this inequity and lead struggles to restore an economic balance among the players in the labour market. 
As we enter the year 2013, we call on the trade union movement to intensify the campaign for reform of labour legislation. Trinidad and Tobago continues to have on its statutes many items of legislation which can only be described as archaic; these labour laws fall below the international standards established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Indeed our country remains very far away from achieving the goal of Decent Work in Trinidad and Tobago. The ILO’s Decent Work Programme (DWP) will not be achieved, if the government continues to keep Labour legislation on the back burner. 
Even if the Industrial Relations Advisory Committee (IRAC) recommends meaningful amendments to the Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 88:01, there is no guarantee that the several layers of State bureaucracy would allow for passage of the amending Parliamentary Bills. 
We warn that the industrial relations system will continue to malfunction, should the government not carry out a comprehensive programme of reform of all labour legislation in Trinidad and Tobago. 
The old year has seen some trade unions intensify their political involvement while others have continued to operate exclusively on the industrial relations front. But even so, in a country where the Government wields significant influence on industrial relations matters by virtue of its involvement in state sector companies (wholly and partially owned), public utilities and special purposes companies, in addition to the public sector itself, it is difficult to escape the reality of political involvement in order to defend the interest of workers. 
In many cases we are forced to face the government both as employer and as administrators of the State machinery. Our trade union has had to make its voices heard on a number of national issues including the Section 34 issue which represents a most offensive rape of our democracy and model of governance. BIGWU will continue to carry out its activities both in the area of industrial relations and in the broader area of significant national issues. 
BIGWU will continue to encourage and participate in actions of solidarity with other trade unions, both locally and internationally. After all, employers display great compulsion in supporting other employers who are engaged in conflict with trade unions; it is therefore our duty to emphasise solidarity in 2013 and onwards. We shall work even with those unions which are led by opportunistic elements who have ‘cozied up’ to the government, in the face of the withdrawal of support for the Partnership government, by the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) and those trade unions which supported that political alliance. 
We see the many challenges facing the working class; challenges both inside and outside of the workplace; challenges both of an industrial relations nature and of a social nature. These challenges serve to inspire us to reach for greater heights. It is evident that the hinge that fails to squeak will not get greased. BIGWU will not fail in its responsibility to agitate, mobilize and organize all members in defence of their interests. 
Workers in the banking, insurance, credit union, media, research and other service sectors can depend on the BIGWU to serve their interests, to walk with them every mile of the struggle and beyond. We must face 2013 boldly and bravely, expecting the employers and the government to place a heavier burden on the shoulders of workers. This burden includes plans to privatize TTMF, Eximbank and First Citizens Bank, which our trade union opposes. We shall use every legal and moral avenue to carry out our historic mission of having those who labour hold the reigns of power.