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posted 24 Jan 2018, 07:05 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 Jan 2018, 07:22 ]
Ida Le Blanc
The National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) supplied the following document as preliminary comments to the joint select committee on finance and legal affairs. It is entitled AN ENQUIRY INTO CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE NATIONAL INSURANCE SYSTEM IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO dated January 12th 2018 and signed by General Secretary Ida Le Blanc.

On the request of the committee it deals with the extent to which employers of domestic employees in Trinidad and Tobago fulfill their responsibilities as per the national insurance act. It also deals with the potential implications of an increase in the retirement age on workers and the performance of the National Insurance Board in distributing benefits to employees under the union`s remit.


The National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) was registered as a trade union in December, 1982 under the Registration of Trade Union Act. The union organizes domestic workers, who work as cleaners, cooks, housekeepers, caregivers, handymen, drivers, ironers, gardeners, who work in private residences.

They complained that they worked without contracts so their duties would be changed unilaterally by the employer and they are expected to perform additional duties that was not agreed to when they first started the job, low wages and the non existence of paid vacation leave and overtime payment, they are also not paid for statutory Public Holidays when it falls on their work day. Sleep In domestic workers are always on call and they are expected to work `round the clock when they are hired to do care-giving work.

Sleep In Domestic Workers complain that they are always on call and the National Insurance is not paid on their behalf. They are not registered in some instances and when they enquire from the National Insurance they are fired and they have no means of recourse
under labour legislation because they are not considered as workers under the Industrial Relations Act (IRA).

This action by the employer denies them the right to benefits that other workers enjoy, sickness, injury, pension, etc. They sometimes have to work under poor and abusive working conditions and when they are injured they are unable to access the National Insurance injury benefits nor compensation under the Workmen Compensation neither can they access the Occupational Safety and Health Act for redress. Frequently when they are injured on the job they are fired and have no means of recourse under the Industrial Relations Act and if they were not registered under the National Insurance System they cannot access social security benefits as other workers. Where live-in workers are fired without notice, they are left homeless, especially in the case of migrant domestic workers.

In 1992 NUDE expanded its membership to include general workers to concentrate on organising workers in the informal sector into the union, persons who work as drivers, janitors, bartenders, loaders, waitresses, store clerks, merchandisers, production workers, quarry workers etc.

Their complaints were no different to the domestic workers the only difference is that they are considered workers and the union can seek recourse on their behalf in matters of wrongful dismissal claims and any other trade dispute that may arise.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) the provision of social protection is an effective and important means of reducing poverty and social exclusion as it prevents people from falling into poverty and enables the poor to escape the poverty trap. In the absence of social protection, people, especially the most vulnerable, are subjected to increased risks of sinking below the poverty line or remaining caught in conditions of poverty.

The biggest problem for our members with the system is the registration of domestic workers and low income workers in the informal sector and the payment of their contributions to the NIB, some employers deduct contributions from the workers` salary but never pay the required contributions to the NIB. Some employers tell them they are paying the contributions but they never do.

They only become aware of this when they seek out the benefits, whether it is injury, sickness or maternity benefits. Sometimes it is when they apply for their pension then they realise the amount of contributions missing even though it was deducted from their salary. The NIB officer will then ask the worker for proof that she/he worked with the person in the case of the domestic worker or the company with other workers.

When domestic workers proceed on sick leave which they are entitled to under the Household Assistant Order (Minimum Wages Act) once they have been continuously employed for a period of at least six months and once they produce a sick leave when leave is taken in excess of two days. They are entitled to two weeks sick leave paid by the NIB and the employer.

But if the worker was not registered with NIB which is the employer`s responsibility to register them and pay the contributions that were deducted from their salary with their corresponding contribution to the NIB, to enable workers to access their benefits under the system as all other workers. The same happens with the other benefits such as maternity, injury etc.

Domestic workers are frequently not given a formal written contract which is a provision of the Minimum Wages (Household Assistant) Order set out in section 10 which states the duties, hours of work and rest periods of every household assistant shall be clearly set out in writing by his employer when the household assistant first assumes duties. This written information by the employer could be used as evidence that you worked with the employer but that is never done so domestic workers has no proof of working with the employer. There is no effective monitoring system to ensure that employers abide by the law.


Most workers look forward to their pension from NIS when they reach the age of 60. Domestic workers are preparing and awaiting with anticipation to reach the age 60 to receive their pension, because of some of the arduous tasks they have been performing for years, which becomes more difficult to perform as they age and the work itself is bad for the domestic workers` health after the age of 60.

Some domestic workers have made domestic work a lifetime occupation and performing these jobs for years especially ironing, lifting and moving around furniture, taking care of the children, elderly and disabled lifting and turning the aged and disabled has its effects around 60. That is when ailments start affecting workers who do these jobs, this is arduous work.

The trend across the world is to increase the retirement age to deal with the ageing population (especially the baby boomers generation) and the pressure this is putting on old age pension schemes. However, the Convention 128 on invalidity, old age and survivors benefit convention contains a provision that says that certain categories of workers should be treated differently and allowed a different retirement age because of their type of work.

Art 15 (3) of the convention says 'If the prescribed age is 65 years or higher, the age shall be lowered, under prescribed conditions, in respect of persons who have been engaged in occupations that are deemed by national legislation, for the purpose of old-age benefit, to be arduous or unhealthy.'

However we all know that pension reform is inevitable. Therefore we suggest a formalization policy to get more workers paying National Insurance before taking action to increase the age, we need a pension reform bringing all the stakeholders together to have a national dialogue.

The ILO has well researched the issue of social protection for all in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which states in SDG-1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable”

National Insurance is only deducted when you work in continuous service, if a domestic worker was to get a job at a private residence you cannot pay for her if she comes in once in a while, or when needed, which may be once over a long period if their expertise is house cleaning. After one month employers have to notify the NIB if the worker no longer works with you if NIS is not paid on the workers behalf, so they are left out of the system. These workers who may work in different homes on a “when needed basis” NIS is not paid on their behalf, all these workers should be picked up in the system.

The National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE) conceptualized The Service Workers Centre Co-operative in its venture to formalize domestic work to ensure domestic workers are registered with National Insurance and contributions paid on their behalf, the formation of the co-op was a natural progression to address these issues and other issues of abuse and poor working conditions.

Twenty five members of NUDE who are domestic workers, caregivers, ironers and those other workers who have experience in domestic work came together and formed the Co-operative, to offer services in care. The maintenance of the private homes and small establishments, caring for the elderly, disabled and children in private homes our membership is made up of women and men willing to work together towards getting a decent life for themselves. They expect in the future to open their own home for the elderly.

We recommend a simplified scheme for small contributors or difficult to cover groups, NUDE, The Service Workers Co-operative and other organisations like the maxi taxi association, the taxi association, farmers, etc can work as Intermediaries of The National Insurance Board to bring on more contributors.

NUDE is suggesting that the government look into the use of the Service Vouchers as a simplified scheme which is ongoing in France, Belgium and the canton of Geneva. According to Samuel Grumiau, a free lance journalist specialized in international labour issues in his report prepared for the ILO Bureau for Workers` activities (ACTRAV) on formalizing domestic work through the use of service vouchers.

He said, all over the world, a large proportion of domestic workers remain in the informal economy and this prevents them from fully enjoying all rights enshrined in these new standards. Various countries and regions have set up service voucher to help domestic workers to emerge from the informal economy by easing the administrative burdens on the private citizens who wish to employ them. This report briefly describes how schemes of this kind have been put in place in France, Belgium, and the Swiss canton of Geneva, three places that they work particularly well.

NUDE is recommending the Service Vouchers for domestic workers who work on an irregular basis, this in no way is advocating for a change in the registering and paying for full time and part time domestic workers into the National Insurance System. It could be used for street vendors, farmers, and other workers who are left out the system. All this should be implemented with much needed quality service. This will also include many other workers in the system, workers who are marginalized and are denied the right to social protection. Hiding employers will become visible to engage in formal agreement with difficult to cover workers. The system must also combat fraud and corruption.


Workers who are unable to read and write complain that they receive no assistance from NIB in filling out the complaint form and the request for contribution statement; if the union representative tries to assist we are told by NIB that we are not the insured person.

They complain about the length of time they have to wait when a complaint is made against the employer, the investigation stays too long leaving the worker despondent, having negative things to say. There should be more transparency and communication.

The contribution statement should have the employer`s name to enable workers to keep their own records over time, especially important in preparing for retirement.

When workers apply for pension benefits and they are “sent up and down” as they say seeking information on their past employment which may be forty years ago, they end up leaving frustrated and fed up and discontinue the process to access the benefit.


1. A Reform Commission should be set up with the stakeholders, inclusive of trade union, employers, civil society, government, NIB, to discuss the way forward in a positive, peaceful and meaningful way that will preserve the right to pension.

2. Rigorous campaign to encourage employers to register workers and capture unpaid national insurance contributions from employers, especially in the case that they have deducted contributions from the workers` wages.

3. Efficient and effective solutions to deal with complaints.

4. Make it mandatory to give payslips to workers.

5. Follow the Uruguay model that produces a book in school for students and teachers to inform about responsibilities and obligations under the social security system.

6. Awareness/sensitization exercise towards changing the mindset towards National Insurance

7. Capacity Development Training

8. Transparency is needed for workers who are contributors