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posted 5 Jul 2014, 05:26 by Gerry Kangalee




The National Workers Union (NWU) notes with great concern the imposition of a stop order on the Public Services Association (PSA) and the workers of the Immigration Department by the Industrial Court at the behest of the Minister of Labour, ex-OWTU president general, Errol K. McLeod.


The action by the Minister of Labour, utilising section 65(1) of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) highlights the imbalance of power between workers and employers in a capitalist society.


The industrial relationship between employer and employee is an adversarial one and is recognised as such by the procedures laid out in the IRA designed to regulate that relationship. Of course, in the final analysis, the relationship is skewed in favour of the employer, because the employer can exert economic pressure on the workers and the capitalist state has developed to protect the interests of the employer.


This is demonstrated graphically in the IRA with its restrictions on the right to strike and its outright prohibition of the exercise of that right by what is deemed in law to be workers in essential services and the restrictions on workers in exercising their right to freedom of association because they have been deemed essential industries.


The law, in large part, therefore, serves the interests of the employers and, conversely, acts against the interests of workers.


Employers may apply immediate sanctions against workers through dismissal, suspension, retrenchment, denial of promotions etc. But if workers take action against employers by exercising their power to control the deployment of their labour power, the law steps in and forces them to go through protracted legal processes or punishes them for not doing so.


Workers should have the right to take industrial action even though it may cause inconvenience to the public. Even the founder of the PNM, Dr. Eric Williams recognised this when he said in 1960: “Industrial democracy is based on the right of workers to strike, even though the community is thrown in turmoil. It is the effective and often the only way of bringing the workers case to the attention of the public…”


Of course, our first prime minister made a u-turn on that position and all political parties have since sought to suppress the exercise of the right to take industrial action, including the right to strike, by workers.


The International Labor Organisation (ILO) of which the government of Trinidad and Tobago is a member recognises the right to strike. According to the ILO: “ The right to strike is recognized by the ILO’s supervisory bodies as an intrinsic corollary of the right to organize protected by Convention No. 87, deriving from the right of workers' organizations to formulate their programmes of activities to further and defend the economic and social interests of their members.”

It is clear that the law is designed to bolster, protect and defend the interests of the employers. It is also clear that if workers are restricted in their capacity to take collective action to advance, protect and defend their interests they are rendered powerless in their relation to their employers.

While the Occupational Safety and Health Act recognises workers’ right to withdraw from situations posing a danger to their health and safety, the Minister of Labour used the IRA to stop the workers at Immigration department from doing so.


Yet the IRA states in Section (3) For the purposes of this Act, no person shall be regarded as a worker, if he is —

(a) a public officer, as defined by section 3 of the Constitution…”


It seems contradictory that the IRA deals with the relationship between workers and employers; that public sector workers are specifically deemed as not being workers, yet the IRA has been used to put a stop order on their actions.


This latest struggle of the workers in the public service confirms the position of the National Workers Union that the labour laws in T&T are oppressive and need to be overhauled from top to bottom; in particular the Industrial Relations Act needs to be repealed and replaced by legislation that will facilitate the interests of working people.



Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer – Cell: 785-7637)