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posted 18 Feb 2015, 17:48 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 19 Feb 2015, 19:00 ]
On February 13th the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) issued a statement (see attachment at bottom of page) to workers of the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) dealing with the high-handed, dictatorial manner with which the management of SWRHA is attempting to introduce a highly oppressive shift system. This latest  by management attempt to screw the workers is meeting with angry resistance and has generated fierce debate among those affected.

The NHWU on  its Facebook page put the matter in perspective by placing it squarely in the context of the lack of a collective agreement governing terms and conditions of work in SWRHA which itself is because there is no recognised majority union in SWRHA. this is what was stated on the facebook page:

There is a lot of jhanjat in SWRHA about the proposed twelve hour shift. The real issue is that there would be no bacchanal if workers in SWRHA had a collective agreement.

Why do workers in SWRHA not have a collective agreement?

Because only a recognised majority union can negotiate a collective agreement!

What is a collective agreement?

A collective Agreement is a written contract negotiated between the union and the employer which contains the terms and conditions, which will govern the relationship between the employer and the workers over a period of at least three (3) years.

The collective agreement spells out the benefits to the workers e.g. wages, leaves of absence including surgical leave, hours of work, allowances, procedure for handling workers grievances, and all other benefits and conditions relating to the relationship between employer and worker. The collective agreement is signed and registered in the Industrial Court and becomes a legal document.

There are those spreading rumours that the PSA will have a collective agreement by March.

How come all of a sudden, a union that has had a presence in SWRHA for twenty years and never negotiated a collective agreement will negotiate one now? Somebody trying to fool somebody!

The fact is that the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), the law that governs industrial relations in T&T, prevents the PSA from negotiating a collective agreement on behalf of SWRHA workers.

How come?

In order to negotiate a collective agreement a union has to gain recognised majority union status. In the absence of a recognised majority union, any union can handle individual grievances (rights matters) but only a recognised majority union can handle INTEREST MATTERS.

What are interest matters?

Interest matters involve negotiating and settling collective agreements and negotiating pension, savings and medical plans involving ALL THE WORKERS in the bargaining unit or units.

How does a union gain recognised majority union status?

A union gains recognised majority union status by recruiting more than 50% of the workers employed by an employer. This enables it to apply to the RRCB (Registration, Recognition and Certification Board, a government appointed body) for certification as a recognised majority union.

So what prevents PSA from recruiting more than fifty percent of the workers and applying for recognised majority union status?

The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) does not allow a trade union to represent more than one group of workers in what it calls “an essential industry” Section 38(4) of the IRA states:
“… no application for certification of recognition under this Part shall be considered where the application relates to workers comprised in a bargaining unit in one category of essential industries and the claimant union is already certified as the recognised majority union for workers comprised in a bargaining unit in another category of essential industries."

What industries are considered essential industries under the law?

According to the First Schedule of the Industrial Relations Act, Essential Industries are: Electricity Service; Water and Sewerage Services; Fire Service; Health Services; Hospital Services; Sanitation Services; Oil, Gas; Port Operations; Sugar; Communications (internal and external); Public Bus Transport Service; Civil Aviation Services; the iron and steel industry.

The PSA has majority union status at WASA and at the airport, both of which are “essential industries”, therefore, the PSA is prohibited by law from gaining recognised majority union status at SWRHA which falls under health services.

It is clear that the issue of shift work will only be finally settled when there is a collective agreement; otherwise the management of SWRHA will keep changing up working conditions at their whims and fancies.

It is also clear that to get a collective agreement in place, there must be a recognised majority union.

It is clear that to get majority union status more than fifty percent of the workers must join the union applying for recognition.

It is also clear that a union that already has recognised majority union status for a group of workers in what the law defines as an “essential industry” cannot apply for recognition at SWRHA.

It is, therefore, clear that the PSA, the OWTU, the BIGWU, the TIWU, the CWU etc. cannot represent workers in SWRHA.

It is because of the situation explained here that the National Health Workers Union (NHWU) was born. We are a union formed specifically to represent the interests of health workers and are not prevented by the law from representing you.
Gerry Kangalee,
18 Feb 2015, 18:05