The Union frequently comments on events or receives news of general interest and these are documented on this page.
News & Comment
The interview can be accessed here
What can be considered SALARY SUPPRESSION? I would like to suggest that this can be when an employee is inhibited from earning a living wage. That is his/her wage is restrained. It is the scenario when an employee remains in a job and gets a small pay increase each year. Because of this the employee’s salary can fall behind in the job market. The pay then drops below the average and new persons coming into the job market could be paid in a higher wage band than the employee who may have been employed for a number of years. That is not reasonable!
It is very rare that a Manager would give an employee a pay increase to keep in line with market level. The fact is on most occasions, once a person becomes employed, if there is no Collective Agreement, the salary can go any way, because it looks like an infraction to discuss salary levels, some employees refuse to discuss these issues openly and it remains a secret until exposed.
Would there ever be a time when according to Collective Agreements we could have principles like the following being maintained so that an increase in salary can be negotiated.
Whenever a job is created or the content of an existing job has been changed significantly, discussions should be held with both parties for clarification.
A salary increase then should be based on competence, performance, ability, qualifications and length of service. The requirements of any job should decide whether the function should be retained, replaced or modified. Discussions should take place to ensure proper placement is done according to market level.
To avoid the wide range of inequity, discrimination, anomalies and favoritism in a company, management needs to pay attention to the dissonance that can be caused within its rank and file when it comes to remuneration.
When employers are faced with high incidences of chronic late comers, persistent absenteeism, low productivity and lack of loyalty to its business, checks should be made to see whether or not there is a breakdown in a fair salary disbursement.
There are some Companies that must be commended for their efforts to maintain a balance to avoid salary suppression; however a great number of Companies play a significant role to avoid a fair salary or wage based on the value, loyalty, type and quality of work being done by employees. Think about this.
A man who shall remained unidentified because he merely killed a woman driving recklessly with his Mercedes, flees the scene and returns with his lawyer not to the accident but to the police station. (I am going by media reports here which is the worst way to go much of the time). The driver who was 'liquored' up fails a breathalyser test; seems he was really tanked; claims illness and is allowed to go to the hospital under police guard?
The obvious questions pile up. Why was not there an all points bulletin out for this driver? What tampering has gone on with the vehicle; why was this person of interest not detained pending enquiries?
Is this a case of working class lives don't matter? If the driver had beaten her in a video he would have spent time in detention but he chose another route so the kid gloves stay on. But the dots/clues point in a certain direction: 28 years old; speeding in a Merc; drunk; fleeing the scene; waking up a lawyer at 3 in the morning; appearing 'incognito' next day; media blackout.
This local Nico Rosberg will not see a day in Remand because working class lives do not matter. Rewind: big car; doubles; cutlass. This is not written as humour folks. Just pointing out the similarities! A woman is dead because someone had a bigger car than she did, was drunk and was able to flee a fatal accident and immediately set the wheels in motion for immunity. Sea Lots anyone?
Then he gets a bligh from a local newspaper whose article features 2 paragraphs about safety on the roads. The level of reporting in this instance is the same as when we are told that s prisoner turns into lunch box and walks past a station full of policemen. One wonders if a pizza motorbike was waiting to take him home. Or that 2 men of initiative 'broke and ran' from Carrera and simply disappeared. 2016 Olympics, with or without Russia, is almost here and swimmer George Bovell is aging but would they really have us believe that these trustees swam to shore. The water Taxi? Okay: am sorry; did not think of that. It is 3.30 a.m. and I am sober.
The matter involved an application for leave to make a claim for judicial review by the Desalination Company of Trinidad and Tobago of a decision made by the Registration Recognition and Certification Board.
The Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) had organised workers at the Desalination Company and made a claim for recognition to the Recognition Registration and Certification Board (RRCB). The recognition process required by the Board is, firstly, to determine the bargaining unit and then do a check of records to see if the union has more than 50% of the workers in “good standing”.
The Desalination Company argued that it was an essential industry, and this was the preliminary issue that had to be determined by the Board. In the event, the Board concluded that the Desalination Company was not an essential industry which opened the door for the OWTU to get recognition. The Desalination Company sought a Judicial Review which produced this case.
The court identified five (5) issues to be determined:
1. whether the court had the authority to review the decision of the Board in view of Section 23(6) and Section 23(7) of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) which says that decisions of the Board cannot be challenged;
2. whether the Board followed natural justice in its dealings with both the Company and the OWTU in the “clarification” stage which is used as part of the process of determining the bargaining unit;
3. can the High Court review a decision of the Board when Section 31 of the IRA says that the Industrial Court is the route for the RRCB to clarify interpretations of the IRA;
4. the separation of powers;
5. whether Desalcott workers are workers in an essential industry.
The ouster clause in the IRA basically says that no decision of the Board can be challenged “save in relation to the alleged breach of the rule of natural justice”. The separation of powers requires the separation of the legislature, executive and judiciary. The judgment said that because the IRA allowed the Board to interpret the IRA, and therefore determine the limits of its own jurisdiction, there was not a separation of powers.
The key extract from the judgment is:
“… in exercising its supervisory jurisdiction, the court must be left to construe legislation. It is fundamental to a determination as to whether an inferior court or tribunal is acting within its jurisdiction. If that function is removed or purportedly removed by statute, however comprehensively drafted, what comes under attack is the supervisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.”
The Court argued that because there has been no proper separation of powers, the ouster clause was deemed to be unconstitutional.
Section 20 of the Judicial Review Act imposes a duty of the Board to act in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The judgment concludes that it did not do so in this case. More broadly, the judgment was critical of the general procedural approach adopted by the Board.
The procedure of the Board, when determining the bargaining unit is to hold “closed” clarification meetings separately with the union and the employer. Any documentation submitted by either party is supposed to be supplied to the other side, but verbal submissions rely on the Examiner from the Board to accurately record the position of the each party and supply it to the other.
The judgment says:
“It appears from that affidavit of Mr. Taitt that it has become the practice in recognition applications, to receive submissions and representations in meetings with one party to the exclusion of the party. Persons designated by the Board hold “clarification meetings” with each party, receive information, prepare a report for submission to the Board, which then considers it and comes to a decision.
By adopting this practice the Board has ignored the rule of procedure made the Act which, while they allow a fairly wide discretion as to how to deal with certain matters, clearly contemplate proper service, notifications and substantive inter parties hearings where necessary before the Board. The rules notwithstanding, private communications between each side and the Board's representatives appear to have become the order of the day.
It appears that, even now, the Board does not believe that it is under a duty to notify the absent party as to what transpired in its absence, so as to afford that party the opportunity to make appropriate representations. If “Clarifications meetings” which are closed, have become to be the only actual hearings that are afforded the parties, and that is the impression that I got, I do not think this is what the legislation contemplated.”
The judgment then goes on to reject that Board's rationale for “closed meetings” which were predicated on the need to avoid victimisation of workers.
Section 31 of the IRA provides for the Industrial Court to provide an opinion to the Board on any interpretation of the law in respect of the Board. This was rejected in the judgement as a viable alternative for claimants as the access to the Industrial Court was at the discretion of the Board.
The Board had determined that Desalcott was not an essential industry. There was an implicit criticism of the Board in that they give no reason for their decisions. In this case, the IRA describes an essential industry as being “Water and Sewerage”. The discussion was whether this should be read as “Water and Sewerage or “Water or Sewerage”.
The judgment took a broad approach and concluded that Desalcott was in the water industry and so was an essential industry. In doing so it took a reasoned approach that would avoid Blue Waters, for instance, being designated as an essential industry. The judgment does not seem to help at all in determining the distinction between “hospital services” and “health services”.
The determination that the ouster clause is unconstitutional is clearly of significance as it removes the “star chamber” qualities of a secret organisation from the Board. Whether this might have some implications for the ouster clause on Industrial Court matters might be a possibility, although the ouster clause there is not as comprehensive as that applying to the Board.
The judgement gives a pointer on how definitions of what is an essential industry might be determined, given that the IRA gives no precise definitions. It does not help in the hospital/health issue though. The key implication seems to be an attack on the fundamental approach historically taken by the Board in dealing with recognition claims, in particular by:
• using “closed” clarification meetings;
• no opportunity to put a case to the Board;
• not giving reasons for its decisions.
The position adopted by the NWU in its submissions to the Board on what procedures should apply has, in a sense, been vindicated by this judgement. While there may an opportunity to press for a completely new procedure based on direct negotiations between the unions and the employers and a transparent approach by the Board, really and truly, the whole concept of essential industry and the Industrial Relations Act, itself, should be scrapped.
It seems a long time ago. Come to think of it, it was a long time ago. To be exact…8th March 2013.
Into the office of the National Workers Union comes a worker from a small company with six application forms and unions dues for two months. All the monthly paid workers in this small company had joined the union and paid enough union dues to keep the Recognition Board happy.
Promptly, two months later, the union submitted a claim for recognition to the Registration Recognition and Certification Board. That's when “promptly” ended, because it took until November 2015 before the Union was issued a Certificate of Recognition.
To be fair to the Recognition Board (you have to be occasionally!), the former trade unionist and former Minister of Labour Errol McLeod never got around to appointing a Recognition Board for over a year. That certainly did not help. But the problem is more fundamental than that.
The procedures used by the Recognition Board seem almost designed to delay the process of recognition. Instead of the union and the employer sitting down and sorting out what they think the bargaining unit should be, the Board has Examiners who meet each side separately and privately.
They meet the union and “clarify” what the union thinks the bargaining unit should be. Then they meet the employer and “clarify” what the employer thinks. Then they go back to the union with what the employer said, and if necessary go on like this until they think both sides have “clarified” their position. Then the Examiner does a report to the Board on what he/she thinks the bargaining unit should be.
In all this time, the union and the employer have never sat down face to face. Why? According to the Board: to protect the union from victimisation by the employer (who, by and large, will not want union recognition).
This is nonsense said a judge in a recent High Court judgment involving the Recognition Board and Desalcott. To quote:
“… trade unions are hardly considered secret or underground societies. They are powerful organisations whose contribution to our national development has long been recognised.”
But it is the process of ongoing closed and private clarification meetings that are the real killers and these were the subject of critical comment from the judge in the Desalcott case who said:
“I have considered the procedure adopted by the Board in relation to the application as well as the relevant law and find that the rules of natural justice were breached ...”
This was a conclusion the trade union movement had come to many years ago. The current system is an obstacle to recognition that has to be replaced by one which enables workers to get their unions recognised within three months at the latest.
The sort of fundamental changes that are necessary would require changes to the Industrial Relations Act, and the prospects of that happening from this Government are as minimal as from the previous one.
The NWU has made proposals based on direct discussions between the union and the employer to sort out the bargaining unit that both sides think make sense. Why it is felt that unions that negotiate collective agreements are not capable of negotiating the parameters of a bargaining unit is difficult to understand.
Where does this leave the recognition claim from this small group of workers?
When they joined the union, there were six of them representing 100% of the workforce. During the “clarification” process, the employer told the Board that they only had four workers. So the Union had 120% membership! We never met the employer so we got no explanation for this.
By the time the Recognition Certificate was issued, the number of workers in the bargaining unit had been reduced to three and the union members? There are none left!
So the union is left with a bargaining unit and no members.
The very reasons that led the workers to join the union in the first place – a poor employer and bad terms and conditions - were the very reasons that led the workers, who could not wait for recognition, to go and find other jobs.
It's a good job that section 32(1) of the Industrial Relations Act requires the Board to “expeditiously determine all applications for recognition ...” otherwise this process might really take a long
There was the Julien Commission of 1957, the National Advisory Council interim Report of 1978, the Toby Commission Report of 1982, the Gafoor Commission of 2006. There may have been more, but I’m too lazy to track them down.
Some of these committees recommended the decentralisation of the public health system. This became a reality during the 1990’s when T&T fell into the grip of the International financial Institutions. As a condition of the health sector loan (US $192 million) the government accessed from the Inter American Development Bank (IDB), the Regional Health Authorities Act was passed in 1994 (amended in 2000).
Eight IDB missions were dispatched to examine the feasibility of health sector reform as a lead- up to the disbursement of the loan. So it is fair to say that the health sector has been probed, analysed and studied to death, literally...for the sector is more comatose now than ever before.
So, we are going to be inundated with information that we have had before and we are going to hear recommendations which we have heard before. Maybe, the Welch Committee should just cut and paste previous reports and save the citizens much-needed public funds.
Any way let’s go through the motions! What is the remit of the Welch committee? According to the ubiquitous Minister of Information it will review the levels of health care delivered by the regional health authorities and rationalise the system of public sector doctors in private practice.
The problem in T&T is not lack of data about the workings of the health system. It is a question of implementing the measures we know are needed if the systems under review are to fulfil their mandate. But this is precisely where the problem lies. To do the right thing by those who fund and access the public health system is to interfere with the interests of those who profit and live like parasites off the system as is and who are powerful enough to block all attempts to reform it.
The question of health sector reform, therefore, is a question of class struggle and those in a position to implement that reform are not interested in doing so, since it would hamper the class interests of those who call the tune.
The National Health Workers Union has called for certain short to medium term measures to relieve the pressure on health workers which is a prerequisite for relieving the pressure on those who access the public health system. There can be no delivery of proper health care, if those who are mandated to so deliver are themselves under pressure and are suffering stress and burn out. (If I cannot take care of myself how can I be expected to take care of others?)
To transform the health care system into one that serves the needs of the public and not that of an elite medical mafia, party hacks, suppliers of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, owners of security firm and well-connected contractors, the social arrangements must be transformed.
We live in a society where human needs are not prioritised; where contact and nepotism are the order of the day; where fairness, social justice and equity are trampled upon in the mad scramble to maximise profit and accumulate capital by any means necessary.
As workers and as members of the public whose funds which finance the public health system are often siphoned off into the pockets of medical capitalists, we have a duty to agitate and fight for a safe and affordable health system which entails an exploitation-free workplace, where workers rights have to be taken into consideration.
While the struggle for a long term solution to the woes of the health system must go on, in the short term health workers must demand:
an end to the dual track system where an elite group of doctors reap the benefits of operating in the public health system while operating private practises;
a massive programme of training, so that the appalling shortages plaguing the RHAs can be ameliorated;
an end to the super-exploitation of workers through the short term contract system;
an end to nepotism in hiring and promotion practises;
security that prioritises people over property.
The health system does not need yet another committee to go over the same ground and recommend the same things that have been recommended for years. What is needed is that the workers in the health system must organise themselves to put as much pressure as they can on their immediate bosses and on their ultimate bosses – the government – to ensure a safe and affordable health care system.
To achieve this, workers must unite and engage in collective activity so that they cannot be ignored and/or divided. The best way to unite and to engage in collective action is to seek majority union status through the National Health Workers Union and to secure workers rights and entitlements through substituting the master and servant relationship with a collective agreement. It is high time the health workers draw a line in the sand!
The supposed "enlightenment" symbolism of Divali is overshadowed by the "darkness" of attachment, the desire for worldly things, even junk things you do not really need, plastic throw-away toys, overly priced and useless in a few days. Corporate logos compete with Murtis to, in the end, give us a "Nagar Murti-Mall". In this sense the Nagar is an abject failure which speaks to a wider societal-cultural failure. If it were not for the Hari-Krishnas, there would be little left of the Nagar's original intention.
Trini mainstream Hindus, however, appear unfazed by the collapse of the Nagar into materialism, rationalizing that it needs to "pay for itself". They are happy enough to show up in their shalwars and kurtas, buy a trinket, eat something and go home.
Outside the Nagar walls, year round, money rules power - rules the logic of decision makers. This "power" then trumps truth, knowledge, wisdom, justice, equity - being able to "see the light" - back to "capitalism" again, the system of "profit over people". The failure of the Nagar to insulate itself from this 'system' demonstrates proof of a failed Hindu politics and a failed society.
The philosophical underpinnings of Hinduism sought to provide humanity with one of the richest, most thorough and deeply profound explanations for why "power" should always submit to "wisdom" and why the reverse would lead to materialism, attachment, suffering and misery (capitalism again).
On the political front Hindu ex-PM and current political leader of the UNC recently claimed to supporters that her bid to be re-elected as political leader was indeed a "Holy War". Keeping a straight face we see Kamla desperately mixing-up politics with religion as she has little pure political capital left. She is hoping that her Hindu supporters are unwise enough to associate her remaining in power with some sort of religious (read righteous) struggle (of light-over-darkness, of good-over- evil).
Trini Hindu leaders are comfortable mixing their religion with both politics and commerce. This vulgarity is evidence of a degradation in cultural self-awareness and self-understanding, and an absolute loss of the appreciation of the mighty philosophical architecture that gave rise to Hinduism and its ability to discern reality, purpose and the meaning of existence.
But these losses no longer appear to matter to mainstream Hindus. They are prepared to endure such vulgarity, prepared to accept a political party which is nothing else but a huge apparatus-opportunity for corruption and cronyism. Bag men, special interests, business class, financiers, sex, drink, drugs, lies, murder, intrigue, scandal, fast cars and near-billionaire politicians is what has become of the UNC - all half-heartedly disguised as a "partnership" of the people. And even with a fallen veil, Hindus prefer this vulgarity to the PNM. As a consequence, we are now back where we started. Unsurprisingly, the UNC is looking for a leader in its failed cabinet.
This Divali, I hope Hindus everywhere renounce all that is making us unwell and come back out next year seeking to reclaim and value that cornerstone, that kernel of wisdom that teaches that in order for Order to prevail, for prosperity and peace to take over the land, wisdom must guide leaders not power, for power can be bought but wisdom never! Shubh Divali!
The class bias of the politicians in this country is legendary. They are quite clear that, after all is said and done, they do not serve the interests of working people and the poor. They serve the interests of their financiers, foreign capital, big business, the employers and, of course, their families, their friends and themselves.
In the final analysis, our political parties subscribe to the capitalist world view, defend the neo-liberal ideology, hold the masses in contempt and think that public funds belong to them, once they have won an election
Although, the five billion figure seems way out of whack, we’ll let that pass. The goodly minister is saying that the previous administration has “encumbered” or burdened the new administration with a debt that is owed to the workers. This is money that workers have already worked for and have not yet been paid.
It’s just like public debt repayments that are owed by the government to its creditors, local and foreign. Yet these payments are privileged over those owed to public officers, health sector workers and others in the public sector. Yet Imbert carps about having to pay the debt to ordinary working people who are struggling to keep their heads above water to pay their rent, mortgages, transport costs, send their children to school, buy food etc. while fighting up with an inflation rate that has increased by over 40% since 2010.
So here is the Minister of Finance grumbling about what he claims is a $5 billion dollar increase in the public debt; remember most public sector workers, including health sector workers, did not get a wage increase since 2010. Let’s look at the increase in the public sector debt since 2010. According to the Review of the Economy 2015, net public sector debt increased from $50 billion dollars in 2010 to $76 billion dollars in 2015. This includes the debt profile, both domestic and foreign, of Central Government, statutory authorities and State enterprises.
So how come Imbert isn’t carrying on about this $26 billion dollar increase in the public debt his administration has been “encumbered” with over the same period as the debt owed to workers in the public sector? He does not rant and rave about how much debt is owed to the Inter American Development Bank or to the Chinese state banks or the domestic banks and other financial institutions!
The answer is simple really. It is because working people are held to be of little consequence. If the government could get away with chinksin’ on the retroactive payment to health care workers, public officers and others, they would certainly do so. Remember trade unions had to put up a tremendous battle to break the last government’s five percent wage cap.
Already the talk in health care circles is that the retroactive payments which the last minister of finance claimed would be paid at the end of this month will be deferred to January 2016. Health care workers had to put on their marching boots and force the government to pay their wage increase in August or they might have still been on 2010 salaries.
Workers must always bear in mind that regardless of which party they voted for, when it comes to defending their bread and butter, their class interests, they have no friends in the government and despite the games played by some trade union leaders, if they do not fight to protect, defend and advance their interests crapaud smoke dey pipe. Employers, including the government, never willingly meet the demands of workers. They always have to be pressured, kicking and screaming to do so. Talk about class bias!
It must be a special skill: this ability to bend and twist and turn to get on Board. One of the latest appointments to a State board/committee brings this to mind. Imagine being unjustly arrested and charged outside the Parliament in 2009, then working to remove PNM from office.
You and your partners fall out halfway into their term of office and you are left high and dry as the ship sails on without you. In fact you remain with what is essentially your own personal political lifeboat which, occasionally on a morning, pops up on the media horizon as a 'filler' really, in case a real guest might prove hard to come by or Jack is busy bringing light and Sunshine into our lives.
Then you ally with your former prosecutors to help sink the ship you once proudly sailed on and believe it or not you are appointed to an economic advisory State board. Cometh the 2nd republic or all that talk done now? Some of us might even ponder that there are $15m. worth of reasons why this move was made especially if you are not in a position to access any of it. It's like having 4 numbers in a winning 5 number lotto draw.
The only thing to top that I guess is Jesus having risen from the dead on the 3rd day heading for the Roman embassy in Palestine and seeking citizenship. Even He was not so forgiving, rather He kept warning that Babylon would fall and given what is transpiring today in our country politically, economically and socially it would be hard to argue with the Messiah who might truly fear that they find him in a car trunk if He comes this way again.
Why comment on this? As George Jackson wrote "The sh.. that they fling around must be counterpoised or some of it will fall on us.'' There are many who in the face of overwhelming odds are trying to re-build the working class movement.
The battle against contract labour, mindless consumerism, increasing inflation, incomprehensible child abuse and national bullying by state institutions is far from won. In the midst of this one sees another instance of a 'leader' privileging the personal over the collective.
Those who are new, uninitiated or have not the inclination to study but rather have come to accept the messages and interpretations of the ruling class media may be inclined to think that struggle is futile, sacrifice is pointless and change unlikely when 'leaders' behave like this. After loudly sucking their teeth they utter "All ah all yuh is the same thing. Me ent want to hear nothing about politics and struggle."
Is it a daunting task? Yes! Is it a losing battle? No! In the spirit of the National Insurance Board workers who have twice taken to the streets since the elections, the OAS workers engaged in the Highway project, the Tobago contract teachers facing the THA, the courageous workers in the Health sector, the Guave Road farmers in Chaguaramas struggling to keep their land, the Charlotteville community refuting 'resort tourism'…the fight has to go on.
The hour is dark. We know not when cometh the hour of the dawn. But to surrender, to become a "Roman citizen'' and join the Board should not be an option.