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CWU VS. TSTT COLA SHOWDOWN

posted 30 Dec 2013, 12:13 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 30 Dec 2013, 12:14 ]
On 3oth December 2013, Secretary General of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) issued the following media statement.

The Communication Workers' Union would like to publicly condemn the TSTT Board of Directors, Executive Management and by extension the Line Ministers responsible for the operations of TSTT for their boldface and obscene attempt to fundamentally change the method of application of the critically important Cost of Living Allowance, COLA, for both Bargaining Units at TSTT.

Over the years, COLA was calculated based on the economic principle of Indexation. This meant that the allowance was applied and calculated based on the Consumer Prices Index, CPI, or more commonly the Index of Retail Prices as determined by the Central Statistical Office, CSO. This principle of the application of COLA was fought for by the pioneers of the progressive Labour Movement and was applied universally in Trinidad and Tobago until sometime in the 1980's when quite a number of Companies moved away from this principle and applied what is now referred to as Fixed COLA.

The CWU as a progressive Trade Union struggled to ensure that COLA was applied by Indexation and over the years endured and won many battles to maintain the application of COLA by the Indexation Principle. To ensure that workers benefitted from the relevant buffer against the spiraling Cost of Living, a formula was negotiated and agreed upon bilaterally by parties to the Collective Agreement in free and fair collective bargaining. Within the last two years, the TSTT Board of Directors and Executive Management have brazenly attempted to interfere with the formula that they agreed to for the calculation of COLA for the Bargaining Units workers.

In 2010, the Industrial Court delivered Judgment for the Junior Staff Bargaining Unit for the 2003 to 2007 period and COLA was applied consistent with the agreed to principle and formula. In 2011, as we attempted to settle negotiations for the Senior Staff Bargaining Unit for the same 2003 to 2007 period, the TSTT

Management attempted to have the COLA formula for the Senior Staff Bargaining Unit reduced through trickery during conciliatory talks at the Ministry of Labour. Subsequent to that, they went to the extreme and unilaterally reduced the COLA payments for the Junior Staff Bargaining Unit, after they had applied the correct formula for over a year after the Court Judgment.

The Union took the matter of the reduction of the COLA for the Junior Staff Bargaining Unit to the Industrial Court and was successful in September 2013 in getting the Court to rule in its favour and COLA was thereafter applied as per the agreed to principle and formula for the Junior Staff Bargaining Unit.

Subsequent to that, parties agreed to commence Bilateral Talks for the resolution of Negotiations for the 2008 to 2010 Collective Agreement period for both the Junior and Senior Staff Bargaining Units, despite the matters being referred to the Industrial Court. These talks commenced in November 2013 and continued up until December 19, 2013. During these talks, on December 17, 2013, parties signed off on a Terms of Settlement for the Senior Staff Bargaining Unit for the application of COLA to be similar to that which was determined for the Junior Staff Bargaining Unit.

In the face of this Agreement, the Company returned to the Bargaining Table on December 19, 2013 and proposed to have the said COLA formula that they recently agreed to apply, drastically reduced. They were adamant that despite the recent agreement, they had instructions to offer a reduced formula for COLA from their superiors and as such, despite valid positions put forward by the Union, the Company’s team led by the EVP HR Mr. Harigobin Jhinkoo maintained that they had no mandate to agree on what exists in the subsisting Collective Agreement. It must be noted that over the years the application of COLA was never an item in dispute.

In the face of our uncontested arguments and the material evidence of the Terms of Settlement and the custom and practice over the years, TSTT has once again resumed their attack on the Economic Principle of COLA by Indexation.

This position now being adopted by the Company’s Management is one of the most heinous Industrial Relations crimes that a party can commit and the company’s approach can only be described as Terrorist Negotiations.

This attack we surmise has the tacit approval of the Board of Directors and by extension, the Line Ministries that TSTT reports to. It is also part of a national battle by Employers to have the principle of COLA by Indexation removed and replaced by Fixed COLA. This is a major contradiction and we will always maintain that as long as the Cost of Living rises, there must be a commensurate change in the Cost of Living Allowance to act as an economic buffer to protect the purchasing power of the workers dollar.

As such, the CWU calls on the Minister of Public Utilities and the Minister of Finance to immediately intervene in this impasse. This battle for COLA by Indexation is a critical battle for the Progressive Trade Union Movement; this principle is considered Sacrosanct and as such, will be defended by every possible resource available to the Union.

We commit to engage in a fierce battle to preserve this principle and we warn the TSTT Management and the Board of Directors that they must be mindful TSTT operates in a fiercely competitive environment and any form of Industrial Instability will not auger well for their competitive advantage.

As such, we implore those in authority to step in before the rot sets in and TSTT is allowed to succumb to the preplanned demise that is the making of some elements within the Company’s Executive Management ably supported by their cohorts on the Board of Directors and within the Government.

The Communication Workers' Union wishes to state emphatically, that it is prepared to battle to the end to ensure that the principle of COLA by Indexation is maintained and that the formula for the calculation and application of COLA is not tampered with by anyone, from The TS`I'I' Management to the Line Ministries; For this, we wish to state that WE DARE TO STRUGGLE!
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