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posted 2 Oct 2013, 23:17 by Gerry Kangalee





The National Workers Union (NWU) notes with interest the statements made by the President of the Industrial Court about what she termed the growing trend of contract labour. The NWU shares the concern of Justice Thomas-Felix on the “systematic dismantling and weakening of the public service”. She quite correctly speaks of the “privatising the public service” and laments the “proliferation of fixed term contracts to people who are not considered to be government employees and who do not enjoy job security.” 
She points out that workers do not enjoy the benefits and security of tenure which traditional public servants enjoy and when their contracts expire are not entitled to trade union representation. She states: “This denial of the legal right to representation and to collective bargaining …is something which should not be overlooked or taken lightly." While the president of the Industrial Court confined her discourse to the public service, the rot is much deeper. The trade union movement has been pointing out for decades the evils inherent in the contract system at all levels and not just in the public service. 
In 1996, the late great trade unionist, Joe Young made the following observation of what he called undermining job security: “substituting employment of casual, temporary and contract workers for the employment of workers for indefinite periods of time, cross crafting/multiskilling, contracting out bargaining unit work, non filling of vacant posts with their functions imposed as burdens on other workers, retrenchment, after which the functions of the jobs of the retrenched are imposed on other workers” 
In a statement dated June 24th 2013, the National Workers Union said: “The NWU is opposed to the government’s continuing programme of elimination of permanent jobs in the public service in favour of contract labour. Most new jobs in the public service and state enterprise sectors are not permanent jobs. The situation in the private sector is also trending in that direction as employers attempt to super-exploit workers, avoid entitlements and benefits due to permanent workers and engage in blocking unionisation of their workers.”

The statement continued: “Contract workers have no job security; they are unable to make long term commitments because the banks discriminate against non-permanent workers; they are excluded from occupational pension plans. In the public sector they are subject to the shifting political tides.

When governments change many of them have their contracts terminated. This leads to nepotism through the hiring of party hacks and family members of politicians and their hangers-on. A result of this programme is the weakening of unions in the public and state enterprise sectors.”  
The Zin Henry report into contract labour was compiled in 1972 and its recommendations have never been implemented. The fixed term contract system is but one of the mechanisms used by the employers to degrade the status of workers and deny them job security so that they never develop a stable life style. 

A widespread practice in the private sector and at Petrotrin is the designation of workers as casual and temporary. In fact “temporary” workers work for decades and are deprived of the benefits that “permanent” workers enjoy. Workers are even dubbed “permanent casuals” What this state of affairs does is to weaken the bargaining units within which these workers fall; to reduce the permanent workforce through attrition and the substitution of permanent jobs by casual, temporary and contract labour. 

 The first Manning regime (1991-1995) saw the introduction of fixed term contracts in the public service and state enterprise sector under the guise of public sector reform. This reform has been so successful that almost all new jobs in the public service are fixed term contract jobs. Of course a consequence of this has been that many younger “public servants” are grievously exploited and are not organised into the Public Service Association. This is a clear case of union busting. 
Job security is the cornerstone upon which workers attempt to improve their standard of living and their quality of life. Without job security, the rights to organise and to bargain collectively stand in grave danger. It is high time the trade union movement tackles in a systematic and sustained manner the evils of casual, temporary and contract labour which is a dagger at the heart of hundreds of thousands of working people and which has the potential to emasculate the trade union movement itself. 

To do this the trade union movement must engage in a massive campaign to organise these workers, to mobilise them to fight for and win job security both at the level of collective mass action and through the industrial relations mechanisms open to the movement.

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