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posted 21 Feb 2014, 14:40 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 21 Feb 2014, 14:43 ]

Joseph Remy, President of The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs, (FITUN) issued the following statement on February 19th 2014.

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs, FITUN wishes to publicly state that while the recent statements by Senate President Timothy Hamel Smith reflect a fundamental show of contempt for the people of this country, we are not at all surprised by them.

At a luncheon hosted by the Port of Spain Rotary Club, the Senate President attempted to justify the need for the increases for Parliamentarians by saying that the current Salaries did not represent a "living wage.”

FITUN wishes to make it pellucidly clear, that the records will attest to the fact that no Member of Parliament including Senators receives less than $ 10,000.00 per month currently. The question which has to be asked is whose standards are being measured to determine the bar for a ‘living wage ’.

The Senate President went on to elaborate on his insensitive statements by saying that one cannot take care of a home and family on these salaries. FITUN would like to state that if there was ever any doubt that those in exalted office were totally disconnected from the reality of the people they are entrusted to serve, any such doubts would have been removed yesterday by the class based position adopted by the goodly Senator.

There is an unprecedented level of insensitivity as it relates to the realities of the majority of citizens in this country. The CSO figures show that there was an average salary of below $7,000.00 for our workforce in 2009. This figure is significantly bolstered by the energy sector which is five (5) times the average of other sectors and as such exerts a pull factor on the average wage.

In addition, the number of workers within the energy sector is much less than within the other productive sectors of the country. Moreover, workers employed in the Electricity and Water Industries account for the second highest wage bracket. The Central Bank is forced to acknowledge that the presence of unions is significantly responsible for these higher salaries.

However, the fact of the matter is that the majority of the workforce remains un-unionised, albeit due to an archaic and anti worker Recognition, Registration and Certification process that effectively makes it impossible and most times impractical for workers to join a Trade Union of their choice, consistent with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.

Those workers are thus subjected to questionable terms and conditions of employment and most significantly, they earn salaries well below the national average and therefore, by the standards which the politicians ascribe for themselves, these persons earn well below a ‘living wage ’.

What is worse is that this is the same administration which attempted to impose the dreaded 5% cap on wages and there was no outcry by the politically appointed Senate President about what constitutes a ‘living wage’ at that time. Now that the Senate President has discovered his pseudo working class lineage, FITUN now await his support as ongoing outstanding negotiations in various sectors continue to be unresolved, even to the point where quite a number of workers are still working on deflated 2007 salaries in 2014.

While all that exploitation takes place in some state sectors, the debate for an increase in the minimum wage once again, gains national prominence. FITUN is therefore calling on the Senate President to be consistent and state his position on the current minimum wage of $12.50 per hour which works out to be less than $2,200.00 per month and is deeply rooted way below his benchmark for a "living wage". We are curious to know what is the position of the Deputy President of the Senate, who is supposed to be well aware of the challenges of representing workers, who in the majority, earn well below what his President deems to be a "living wage.”

Let us also be clear however on what is not said. There is an unspoken position that some people count and others don’t; that some must be able to live life unencumbered while others must be perpetually indebted; that some persons are more deserving of a what they consider a living wage than others; that there are some who must be compensated sufficiently to meet the needs of their families while others must ‘wine to the side ’.

FITUN rejects this outright. While Trade Unions are asked to tell their members to batten down the hatches in the interest of country and tighten their already touching belts while increasing their productive outputs, there is no talk of a "living wage" and the social conditions of the members they represent.

The time has come for workers to demand their just due from this hypocritical administration. We put this Government and the country on notice that FITUN is preparing to heighten its activities as our member units continue to face untenable resistance to free and fair collective bargaining at the hands of unscrupulous employers, including the state. A "living wage" is not the divine right of only those who are foisted upon the population due to political allegiances. As such, FITUN commit to struggle to achieve this end for every worker in Trinidad and Tobago.

A word to the wise is sufficient.