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The Union frequently comments on events or receives news of general interest and these are documented on this page.

ARE WE PREPARED FOR THE NEXT OIL SHOCK? by Ken Howell

posted 12 Nov 2014 19:53 by Gerry Kangalee

There is a school of thought which holds, that oil and gas wealth is a curse, on some oil and gas producing countries.

 

Such countries, it is argued, derive a substantial part of their revenue from oil and gas and that revenue to a large extent drives the economy. The problem, however, stems from the short-sightedness of the governments charged with the responsibility to manage this resource as well as the proceeds accruing from it.

 

Prior to the 1970s when oil prices were low, this country, was a substantial producer of Sugar, Cocoa, Coffee, and Bananas for export. These products, contributed substantially to the GDP of the country. When OPEC was formed and oil prices sky-rocketed, the then PNM government treated agriculture as a bastard child and abolished planning.

 

That anti-planning, anti-agriculture attitude was adopted by successive governments. In order to explain that behaviour sources in the know suggest that influential elements, who monopolize the importation of certain staples into the country, are the ones who benefit from this lack of enthusiasm of governments, in the past to treat agriculture as a priority area for development. The view was also held that we have oil dollars so we can purchase all the food we want

 

On many occasions, scribes who contribute articles to the print media, speak to the question of the need to diversify the economy away from oil and gas. Some describe such an approach as “developing the onshore economy”; something which is worthy of serious consideration and must not be left up to the private sector.

 

It is my view however, that if such a decision is adopted by any government which does not see planning as central in conceptualizing and designing of  any development plan which has the potential to change the economic landscape, then any half-hearted approach would not be acceptable. Governments have been adopting an approach to development which seems to suggest that somebody had a vision in their sleep and decided to build things without the necessary studies being done to support the project which eventually ends up costing the tax payers millions of dollars.                                                                                                                                      

 

Recently there have been a number of projects at various stages of construction for which the public have not been told about the studies done on such questions as population density, projected population growth say in the next twenty five years, which is necessitating the construction of some of these structures. I refer here to the Couva children's hospital, and the University that is being constructed in Debe and such other intended projects.

 
DEVELOPMENT PLAN

I am not against the provision of facilities in these areas but when such large expenditures are to be incurred they must be seen to be a part of a development plan which is aimed at meeting the overall economic needs of the country and fit into a master plan. In building the economic infrastructure to accommodate diversification, connectivity and relevance must be uppermost in the minds of the planners.

 

Let us examine what we have been doing as a country. In the energy sector, we have been inviting foreigners to come and develop our energy resources. Some of our assets in the energy sector are suffering from wear and tear and are in need of a complete overhaul; many of them should be replaced because they have depreciated substantially in value, and have outlived their usefulness.

 

 With regard to natural gas, NGC is a valuable asset but the authorities have not been able to aggressively market its expertise in targeted markets; the construction industry is dependent on the public sector investment programme to throw money their way and as a result is unable to guarantee employment continuously. Some companies in the manufacturing sector have succeeded in accessing markets outside of CARICOM, but others are not in such a fortunate position and so, their dependence appears to be entirely on the CARICOM market to export their products.

 

Tourism is largely the domain of Tobago and it was never able to take off here in Trinidad because not enough is being done to market the Trinidad product outside of Carnival. The commercial sector is entirely dependent on the public purse. To the unconcerned observer it does not appear to be so, government transfers which are translated into salaries and wages usually find their way into the hands of the operators in that sector.

 
JOY OR SORROW

Just listen to the comments coming from the Down Town Owners and Merchants Association, during the Christmas season and you would hear their cry of joy or sorrow depending on whether spending was very high or low. That sector does not bring revenue into the country. But they are one of the largest consumers of foreign exchange.

 

Against that background, what are our options in the face of falling oil prices with a national budget of more than sixty billion dollars pegged on the assumption that oil prices will remain stable at $80.00 per barrel? Since the Budget was approved, the price of oil fell below $80.00 and it is expected to fall even lower.  It would seem to me that we are approaching a situation resembling pre 1970. The difference however, lies in the fact that natural gas is now a buffer which can insulate the economy somewhat, along with the Heritage and Stabilization fund.

 

This can buy the government some time to examine its options: such as, deciding in which areas it should trim expenditure and whether it would be necessary to continue borrowing funds to finance the budget deficit. However, taking into account the fact that we are in an election season, this government will obviously focus all its attention on measures which will help to create favourable conditions under which it could win the 2015 elections.

 

It is difficult to understand why governments, past and present, failed to be pro-active and recognize the need to behave in a manner, in which notwithstanding the oil and gas wealth, it could plan, taking into consideration the worst case scenarios. Such a mind-set if adopted, can insulate a country; not entirely, but may cause it to come out of a crisis in much better shape than if it did not implement options of that nature; specially in these times, when the climate in the geopolitical arena is about to reach freezing point once again.

 

This should tell us that we need to be on top of our game, in analysing how we should position ourselves as a country to benefit from the shift from a uni-polar to a bi-polar world where the BRICS countries, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa are now in contention with the USA for leadership in influential centres where major financial decisions are made and for access to resource markets. 

 

For example, how do we view the situation in the Ukraine?  Are we buying the stories that are coming out of the mouths of vested interests in the West? Are we aware of the fact that the fall in oil prices was orchestrated once again, as it has been in the past? On this occasion it was Saudi Arabia and the USA who created the conditions for the fall.

 

Saudi Arabia unilaterally decided to increase oil production in order to pump more oil on to the market, while America who began to increase its oil production largely from shale is now less reliant on imported oil. This caused a glut on the market, thereby, taking the price down with it as well. Some forecasters believe that the market will be bearish for a short while for somewhere between the first and second quarters of 2015, before becoming bullish again, while others believe it will last for the whole of 2015.

 

Those who believe that it will be a short period base their analysis on the very real possibility that for some producers of shale oil the cost of production will become prohibitive if prices continue on a downward slide, thereby causing them to incur losses since it will become unprofitable to drill for oil when the returns result in such narrow margins.

 

The current world situation must be seen as a warning that we cannot continue to be re-active to crises, whether they be internal or external. We must become pro-active. We must begin to prepare for the next oil shock.

    

 

THE RULES WILL CHANGE YOU By RAE SAMUEL

posted 11 Nov 2014 07:49 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 12 Nov 2014 09:10 ]

Cyril Lionel Robert James

CLR James would often say, in reference to progressive people who joined conventional politics/institutions, 'if you don't change the rules...the rules would change you''.

I cannot claim to know the political outlook of the incumbent President of the Republic. If one is to judge by his pronouncements on assuming office, even those he made when he last sentenced a prisoner, then the rules seemed to have affected swift profound change in him. On that occasion, he spoke of seeking to balance mercy with the need to carry out the rule of law.

At an address at UWI quite recently, and in previous private exchanges, he has professed admiration for the socialistic policies of the Cuban society. One wonders if he knew what Fidel's take home pay was like. Or if Fidel has retired quietly to a home in Havana nothing like what his ilk inhabits.
 
Now Rachel P: let us steer clear of 'pre-action protocol' correspondence. This appears in the Trinidad Express of November 08,  "It was the Secretary of the President who asked for an interpretation of the payment of the now controversial housing allowance''. Notice that advice was not sought from Pope Frankie on this critical matter. Horsey, as we say in Trini lingo,was proceeding correctly, no doubt reflecting his judicial training. In other words, when he 'filed his motion' he was not going to lose on appeal. This is a brethren who could have been sitting on the bench, not outside his house by the Savannah, but rather on a Bench in the International Criminal Court, prosecuting local "Islamic fundamentalists' who never visited the caliphate.
 
He knows what powers he had or wanted. As if $64,720.00 tax free salary, $9630 duty allowance (separate from salary), free medical allowance for himself and dependents, access to a fleet of cars and free overseas travel were not financial power enough.

At least you do not have to worry about police stealing your car!

Thank god he does not have to use "Red Band' maxi taxi transport which recently increased  fares by $1. In passing, sir, may I offer a word of advice/suggestion to keep you out of the minds/mouths of irreverent talk show hosts, comics and calypsonians who might want to suggest this is all about dressing/covering your wife properly. You know how 'yuh can't please them'. Do not take any more photos of yourself leaning over to talk to Pope Frankie! Some caustic local might add a caption: "Ah ketch dem"!

Bro, I do not know if you will win this one or how far you may want to carry it legally. Such a request can never be "legitimate'', but power can make anything ''legal''. Ask those who practised slavery, apartheid, Nazism, discrimination against women and those who wrote the Industrial Relations Act.

But I imagine you have reason to be confident, although Ten Million Larry's response may have surprised you somewhat. I do know if next year I have any raffle sheets, concert tickets or barbecue sales whom to contact first.

I wonder what Che, CLR, Mao and others on the left would think about this form of 'socialist admiration'

CWU OPPOSES C&W BID FOR FLOW

posted 8 Nov 2014 07:07 by Gerry Kangalee


Joseph Remy, Secretary General of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) issued the following statement dated November 7th 2014.

The Communication Workers’ Union would like to express its deep concern about the recent announcement of the impending buyout of Columbus International by Cable and Wireless Communications PLC.

This latest development in the Corporate Prostitution Ring confirms to us and should also confirm to all citizens that there are no ethical or moral values within the Corporate Arena, where Greed and Profiteering are the order of the day.

The Communication Workers’ Union publicly stated its concerns and dismay a few months ago about the obscene approach that was adopted by the recently appointed CEO of Cable and Wireless Communications PLC. Mr. Phil Bentley. We informed the Government and the public that Mr. Bentley was making overt and covert approaches to the Union to have us support his attempt to have majority control of TSTT.

We also went on record and publicly stated that we were vehemently opposed to Cable and Wireless acquisition of Majority Shareholding in our Telecommunication Sector. For that matter, we strongly objected to the notion of any Foreign Multi National holding majority Shareholding in any of the major players in the Telecommunication Sector. We believe that the Telecommunication Sector is critical for the economic, social and cultural development of our sovereign nation and also is very critical for National Security purposes as it is the main driver in modern security intermediation.

We can also recall the statement by Mr. Bentley that he would apply for the third (3rd) Mobile License if he does not get the Government to give in to his bullying tactics for Majority Shareholding in TSTT. This was after his approaches to the CWU were rejected. He subsequently made good of his threat and Cable and Wireless was identified by the Telecommunication Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, as one of four (4) Companies that applied for the third (3rd) Mobile License, ironically along with Flow (Columbus Communication).

The CWU subsequently wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Telecommunication Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Selby Wilson on August 18, 2014 raising our strong objection to this application by Cable and Wireless and pointed to the grave conflict that would arise since they are 49% Shareholders in TSTT. Consistent with the approaches by those who arrogate power unto themselves, Mr. Wilson has not even acknowledged our letter; much less fathom a response to our legitimate claims.

POLICY DIRECTION

This latest development by Cable and Wireless Communications PLC, once again raises serious concerns about the policy direction of the Government as it relates to the Telecommunications Sector. The CWU as a major stakeholder in this Sector would like to call for Governmental intervention in this situation.

The Minister of Finance, Senator Larry Howai as the line Minister responsible for NEL, is now called on to immediately investigate how this development has occurred right under the noses of the Government and the TATT. This is a clear slap in the face and an attempt at vengeance against the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago for their rejection of Cable and Wireless attempt to gain controlling interest in TSTT. This development can have severe debilitating implications for the shareholders of NEL.

We wish to remind all and sundry that we raised our objections about the introduction of unbridled and unfettered competition in the Telecommunication Sector with the advent of the Telecommunication Authority. We were of the belief and are still of the belief that the Telecommunication Sector, which is classified as an Essential Industry under the provision of the Industrial Relations Act, should not be subjected to such a Corporate intrusion.

We warned against placing emphasis on the end game, which are purported cheap services and accessories foisted upon an unsuspecting population as an illusion. We warned against allowing such a critical leg of our economic and social developmental thrust to be placed in the hands of foreign multi nationals whose only interest was and still is the exploitation of our resources and the profiteering from our geographical location and deep resource base.

NEGATIVE FALLOUTS

There are numerous negative fallouts that would emanate from this proposed acquisition primary among them is the issue of conflict of interest. We question if any antitrust regulations or policies were breached by this acquisition.

The CWU would like to publicly condemn the Telecommunication Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, who ironically are staffed at the Senior Level by a bunch of disgruntled former TSTT Employees, and we call on them to wake up from their slumber and deal with this Corporate Malfeasance. They must immediately null the application process for the Third (3rd) Mobile License and deal with the issue of how they impartially handle the issue of spectrum allocation, which is more important for the expansion and development of the Telecommunication Sector in Trinidad and Tobago.

They need to quell and alleviate the growing perception in the Telecommunication Sector that their sole aim and purpose is to collaborate and connive to see the demise of the National Entity that has a social, economic and moral responsibility to provide effective and efficient universal Telecommunication Services to the Citizens of our country. The CWU condemns this corporate act of prostitution committed by Cable and Wireless Communication PLC and Columbus International and we call on the Telecommunication Authority to reject this obscene acquisition. In addition, we call on the Government to heed our numerous calls to get rid of Cable and Wireless from the shores of Trinidad and Tobago as this is only the beginning of their quest for control of our economic future; akin to the days

AARON PARANG THE WRONG HOUSE by Rae Samuel

posted 7 Nov 2014 17:57 by Gerry Kangalee

This is a call to the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue proceedings against Aaron. Who is Aaron and why not the DPP himself? Media reports which recently put a local citizen on the front line in Syria, although he never left the country, also suggest that the DPP himself may be 'medically unfit' since the matter of 'cocaine in the belly’ came to light. 

And who is Aaron? Aaron H. whose name we cannot call especially since his appearance on the front page of a daily newspaper, belted and cuffed like the "Soledad Brothers'', is charged with 'paranging the wrong house'' and his crime warrants a bail of $4 million. Now if he were a police officer involved in a fatal hit and run on the Priority Bus route or robbing a casino Aaron would not be so harshly treated but I guess he does not have a 'batch'.

Folks: Aaron anonymous is accused of stealing over $10.8m from his employers, the PriceSmart shoppers club between 2006 and 2014. My point is that Aaron’s only error was to steal from private enterprise and not the State, hence my suggestion that he 'parang the wrong house'

Why should we send such a talented gifted man to Golden Grove where, again to media reports, he may well be beaten by 'correctional officers'?

Aaron outlasted all from Calder Hart to Landate to Life Sport. Should this man not be hosting his own Bourse Report first thing on morning on Television? Or sitting on the Board of First Citizens Bank writing his own cheques like Clico Geeta of $US5 million in the drawer fame? Aaron H, full identity withheld, would have made an excellent Minister of Sport.

The guy is good! He outlasted Reshmi, Quite Contrary Mary, Fire Truck Warner, the aforementioned Calder Hart, Credit Union King Harry, the Karamaths, the 'sick leave' administrator working out of the Acting Police Commissioner's office… just to name a few…

The suggestion is that we are just about 6 months shy of general 'run off' elections and we will have a new administration regardless of who 'runs-off' with the election months after the polls close. Skills like these will be needed to further inflate the cost of the Point Fortin San Fernando highway, the under construction Children's hospital, the UTT complex in Debe and to pay consultants for the non-existent Point Fortin and Arima hospitals

Remember Aaron has 'worked' under both PNM and UNC administrations. Remove him from prison and put him in his rightful place in Balisier House on the Farris wheel or Rienzi Complex to be garlanded by Khadijah. Let him manage the 'ghost gangs' that are a fixture of the scene regardless of who wins. We repeat...paranging the wrong house is not a crime…or is it?

HIGHWAY MEDIATION: TWO VIEWS

posted 4 Nov 2014 13:19 by Gerry Kangalee

The Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) has published a video on You Tube entitled Mediation is the way Forward. The video can be seen here.

Eugene Reynald does not support the need for mediation and his view is published below:

"The talk of mediation will delay the process and give the State the opportunity it is seeking in the project and all the other quite illicitly contrived ones to get contracts in place and hurriedly proceed with letting contract and doing work so the Courts can say that despite the fact that the project was illicitly contrived the work "too far gone" to stop it now; thus freeing those responsible for the illicit contrivances to continue with such.

In effect all that was/is illicit is made legal by cowardly and quite unintelligent and uninformed decisions of the Court - for reasons we can all speculate at.

The Armstrong Report is mediation of the best kind we can get - and by any definition qualifies as mediation. Their report was rejected by Kamla and her Cabinet for reasons still unknown to the public and at the time of writing this - some months after her rejection, her team is still fumbling to put these reasons in writing. All while she and her sycophants in Cabinet repeatedly assert their rejection by ignoring all of its recommendations and accelerating the rate of work on the project.

A whole Cabinet can lie and deceive because one person speaks for them but 19 leaderless professionals supported by scores of others cannot. In light of all the aforementioned, what would you expect from Kamla regarding any lesser form of mediation?

Get real folks, any talk of mediation is playing into the sinister agenda of the politicians and those suggesting it as a solution are pied pipers for their cause.

The public needs to hold the course of the Armstrong Report and try to get the minutes of the fateful meeting with the IDB or "water board, truth serum or embarrass" Dookeran into telling us the reasons cited by his friends at the IDB for rejecting his request for financing.

That meeting was too important not to have been minuted or fully reported on because Dookeran's submission was used as an example of "how not to" implement projects and he was made to silently suffer through a long IDB admonishment on this. Surely there was learning for him in this experience that was carefully noted - to be used in his future interactions with the IDB.

Dookeran and Howai must be made to recognise the right of the public to know all of this and more and their duty as public servants who are paid by the public, not Kamla, to observe and promote this right. The facts will in time be known and if they do not act honourably and honestly now, they both will be damned in history for the role they played in this whole dastardly conspiracy to dumb down and keep in ignorance the public - for reasons that we all know."

Eugene A. Reynald

JENNY DROPPED THE BALL: HEALTH WORKERS, PUBLIC SERVANTS PAY THE PRICE by Ken Howell

posted 3 Nov 2014 14:23 by Gerry Kangalee

On Sunday 2, November 2014, I sat on my chair in my living room, listening to i95.5 fm. It was a show in which Mr. Ralph Maraj, a former government Minister in a PNM administration (among others), and Jennifer Baptiste Primus, a former President of the Public Services Association and an aspiring politician, were discussing several matters of public interest. 

One of the issues which Mrs. Baptiste Primus raised, and appeared to be alarmed about, was the issue of Public Sector Reform. I was amused when she wondered what the current President of PSA was doing about the privatization of certain jobs in the Public Service. She was quoting from a Cabinet Minute, which gave the authority to the Permanent Secretaries, to employ persons on contracts for a period not exceeding twelve months when employees, in classifications such as Cleaners, Drivers, and so on, proceed on vacation leave. From what she sought to explain it would appear, that it is the Public Services Commission’s responsibility to make such decisions. 
 
The real bone of contention for Mrs. Baptiste Primus was the issue of Health Sector Reform: a process which was initiated by Mr. Gordon Draper, a former Minister of Public Administration, in a PNM government. While it is true that she was not yet the President of the PSA during Minister Draper’s tenure, she was an employee of the Public Service when a PNM government first tested the feasibility of the idea of establishing Health Sector Reform in the Port of Spain General Hospital, as the first leg of the Public Sector reform programme. 
 
When the Regional Health Authorities were established, Mrs. Baptiste Primus was the President of the PSA. and as President she would have had to meet and treat with the consequences resulting from that decision. More specifically, she had to deal with the separation of health employees from the Ministry of Health. So, I fail to see how she could plead ignorance to the existence of contract labour in the Public Sector, since it has been around for quite a long time. 

One of her complaints was about an allegation, that the Public Service Commission advertised a number of vacant positions for which an overwhelming number of persons had applied, only to realise that the Cabinet had already authorised the Permanent Secretaries to employ persons on fixed term contracts in those positions. 

The fact of the matter, is that during her tenure as the President of the PSA she failed to do anything about contract labour in the Public Sector. 
 
You see, when politicians want to score points in advancing their agenda, they can be very economical with the truth. But Mr. Ralph Maraj the other member of the panel, had to remind Mrs. Baptiste Primus that the programme started with Mr. Gordon Draper as Minister of Public Administration, and that he remembered that the question of the size of the Public Service was one of the concerns of the government. 
 
In other words, just like the Reagan administration which was complaining about big government in the 1970s/1980s, the PNM was discussing privatization which is just another name for public sector reform, which appears to be tied into certain IMF conditionalities and successive governments, whether it was the National Alliance for Reconstruction or the United National Congress, all chose to continue to adhere to the same path. 
 
Another factor is the strength of the trade union movement. Without doubt, governments over the years have been analysing the strength of the movement; how it responded to certain structural changes that were made in the public sector. There was no concern expressed by the movement when the government launched the Roads Authority, and the Drainage Authority. 
 
It was only the PSA, which raised an alarm over the introduction of the Revenue Authority. This failure on the part of the leaders of the trade union movement, to raise their voices when such issues with far reaching consequences for workers confront them, speaks to their lack of understanding that the movement is under attack. If they do, then their behaviour in the recent past does not suggest that they are conscious of a reality of which everyone else is aware. 
 
For example, they did not have to join the PP to push the “Workers Agenda” or become a Senator to fight for increases for daily rated workers. What is the reality? Well, as far as I can see, the three major unions are directly in the firing line. These are the PSA, OWTU and NUGFW. Other Unions such as TIWU and BIGWU are also vulnerable. 
 
It does not matter which party gets into office in 2015, because if there is one thing all of them agree on is privatization and in that regard contract labour both in the Public Service and the Energy Sector will continue unabated, unless the Trade Unions are prepared to unite to fight it. There is no doubt in my mind that 2015 will be a year of conflict between labour and capital in this country. As a former Trade Unionist that is what Mrs. Baptiste Primus should be concerned about. During her tenure, she dropped the ball!

The Role of the Communes in Venezuela by Jesus Rojas

posted 2 Nov 2014 10:04 by Gerry Kangalee

The comunas (communes) in Venezuela are community organizations intended to consolidate a new form of state based upon production at the local level as well as the significant challenges that remain in the struggle to build a new form of popular power from below. 

Above all, the comuna is a political space, not like the state or a parish; it is created by the people for the people. Currently there are many comunas in construction in the rural areas, where they are the strongest. Every comuna has its own reality depending on political culture and the form of production in the specific locale. For example, on the coastal zone the community is dedicated to fishing, while in a rural zone the production is based on the land. 

It`s being worked to discover which elements and principles unite these different experiences, which elements are the same despite the fact that the methods of production and cultures may be different. It`s being organized through national meetings where the comunas from north, south, east and west can share their experiences and learn from each other—the errors as well as the successes. 

The aims of the comunas are diverse and take different forms. Before the comuna existed there were all kinds of community organizations where people would participate looking for solutions to their problems; their neighbourhood association, the municipal government, etc. 

The goal of the comunas is to build on these processes and consolidate them by organizing on the basis of territory where people live. The comuna is a territorial space, but also a political space where the aim is to build socialism on a permanent basis, where the people take charge of their own education and political formation. The principles of Peaceful co existence are taught and a plan for a particular territory is elaborated What is new about the process is that the people are also elaborating their own plan of formation.

The people are very creative; the most advanced work with the other neighbours in this process to create a permanent space of formation. Civil servants, working for the state, who went to these spaces, quickly learned that the people were elaborating their own plan by and for themselves. 

Obviously some comunas are more advanced than other ones. It is much more difficult to build a comuna in urban areas, for example, because they have no experience with [different] forms of production; for example, they have no experience with [non-capitalist] social relations with the land. There is a dynamic in the city that is very capitalist. But in the rural areas they have conserved many elements of what is “ours”, from our ancestors, the indigenous communities, the Afro-Venezuelan communities. 

These values are still there. For this reason it is easier in the rural areas than in the urban areas. While there are fewer people in the countryside, the quality of the compañeros is very high. 

The comunas are a space of power. There are comunas that have executed more resources than some municipal governments. So, the comunas are constituted spaces of power, they would also make independent decisions in regards to administration and the use of funding.

CABRERA BLASTS INEQUALITY; CALLS FOR LABOUR LAW REFORM

posted 31 Oct 2014 06:40 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 31 Oct 2014 06:50 ]

Vincent Cabrera, President of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) delivered the president’s address at the sixth biennial

conference of the union, on October 25th at the Standards Bureau Auditorium, Macoya. We publish below an edited excerpt from that address dealing with the questions of inequality and labour law reform. The entire address is available here

 

The history of Caribbean society has been a history characterized by extreme oppression and inequality. The obvious question here is why does the society behave as though inequality has never existed? What have we done since independence to reverse or decrease the level of societal inequality? Have our political parties properly analysed this matter of inherent inequality? Have the various religions deliberately ignored that matter? Does the political and the judicial system buttress inequality in our society?

 

And what of the trade union movement itself? Do all trade unions see the battle against inequality as necessary or valid? Are the policies of trade unions designed to combat inequality or are we unconsciously promoting inequality?   There are many types of inequality, inclusive of inequality among countries and social inequality.

 

In a 2007 Global report titled “Equality at Work: Tackling the Challenge”, the ILO comments, and I quote “… significant and persistent inequalities in income, assets and opportunities dilute the effectiveness of any action aimed at combating discrimination. This may lead to political instability and social upheaval, which upsets investment and economic growth.” 

The labour market generates unacceptable levels of inequality. Income inequality is perhaps the most immediate and the most relevant form of inequality for workers in general and for trade unions and their members in particular. I submit that there is a definite correlation between levels of inequality and the relative power of trade unions.

Where the employers are stronger the level of inequality is increased. This balance of power is largely determined by government policy, legislation and the extent of unionisation existing within the labour market.

Nowhere is income inequality as extreme as in the finance sector which is the very engine of the capitalist system. As traditional industries are converted into sunset industries and as more emphasis is placed on the invisible economy as distinct from the real economy, more workers are being employed within the finance sector which includes banks, insurance companies, credit unions, mutual funds, etc. 

In dealing with the trade union response to inequality, the first challenge is the extremely great difficulty which researchers face in the Caribbean as a whole in collecting or sourcing reliable data. While in developed jurisdictions compensation rates for CEO’s are known, in Trinidad and Tobago such data is not easily available.

Finance managers have ensured that the disparity in salary income within financial organizations remains a glaring example of income inequality. Remember that the CEO has access to stock options and golden handshakes. Clearly, financial institutions value the CEO more than the worker. Yet the CEO by himself can do precious little without workers by way of implementation of policy.

No one will argue against wage differentials but we estimate that the capitalist system places a value of one CEO being worth two hundred times more than the average worker. A recently published TUC report coming out of the United Kingdom and titled “Executive Excess” provided a snap shot of top company directors pay and showed that the salary gap can be as much as sixteen hundred to one.

This report provides a variety of data tables, presenting information on top directors’ total earnings and basic salary alongside average employee pay. In Trinidad and Tobago, in the area of income inequality, a 2007 – 2008 report illustrates that CEO pay increased by more than fifty percent over a five year period. Executive pay is cited as having more than doubling over the period to an annual average of $963,234.00.

The comparison between this and general wage increases strongly suggests that the share of national income allocated to wage earners in contrast to executive compensation earners and others in the professional management stream is grossly unequal, corroborating the observation that that growing income inequality is one of the negative features of globalization.

In a recent statement, Professor Emeritus Dr. James Millette said and I quote “Banks, insurance companies and other financial companies have become major players in the fields of industry and commerce, in high stakes speculation and leveraging in the world’s most important commodities, and the world’s most valuable assets. For many of them it is an all or nothing game, facilitated by the generosity of the world’s largest central banks and the world’s most powerful countries. Many of them are now considered ‘too big to fail’ and in the final analysis extraordinary measures to save them from liquidation and bankruptcy’ at the tax payer’s expense, have become common place.”

The module used by Howai at CLICO is beyond logic. The state used taxpayers’ money to bail out CLICO, only to announce his government’s intention to abandon the much heralded ATRIUS, and surrender the company to the private sector. When we compare this with the treatment meted out to the retrenched workers of CLICO, CIB and British American Company that comparison would show a total disrespect for ethics and industrial relations principle on the part of the Central Bank and the Minister of Finance. State funding made TTMF a giant in housing finance; it is a pity to see the economic arrangement turned around in favour of the private sector and to the detriment of aspiring homeowners.

A few days ago the Business Guardian sought to give the impression that bank workers had been gaining wage increases at a faster rate than the rate of increase in shareholder value. This of course is a total fabrication. We did the maths. Profits and increase in shareholder value far outstrip increases in wages at every turn. For every three year period, the rate of increase in profits posted by the finance houses far outweighs the rate of increase in workers’ wages. During the period referred to by the BG, out of the eight banks mentioned, the union negotiated collective agreements for workers at Republic Bank and First Citizens.

Analysis would show that salaries increased at Republic Bank by fifty-one percent over a ten year period or by an average of ten percent an annum. This is far less than the 144 percent increase falsely and inaccurately printed by the BG.

The article forgot to deal with accumulated inflation of 76 percent which severely eroded purchasing power of workers. If we look at our patterns of application of wage increases, we will see that application of strict percentage wage increases, to which we have become accustomed, serves to provide for an ever increasing wage differential between jobs. The concept of equality within a bargaining unit seems to have disappeared. 

Every additional dollar gained through collective bargaining is another step in decreasing income inequality. Government will do well in internalizing this concept and stop being an aggressor to trade unions in their efforts to improve the standard of living of working people who are the people that really run this economy minute by minute every minute of the day.

LABOUR LAW REFORM

Various governments since Independence have chosen to introduce labour legislation which regulates and limits trade union activity thus tilting the balance of power in favour of employers. Employment law has always been based on regulations. Let me say for the umpteenth time; our labour laws do not meet the established international labour standards. When will we get a government that will be conscious enough to put an end to the embarrassment faced by Trinidad and Tobago every June, when the Standards Committee releases its report in Geneva?

We have the worst employment laws in the Caribbean and the absolute worst laws for granting workers the right to collective bargaining. Just imagine it took the RRCB (editor’s note: Registration Recognition and Certification Board) five years to process BIGWU’s claim for recognition at the Central Bank and already our application for certification at the Royal Bank have been postponed for four years. Royal Bank, the most viciously anti union bank in our country, has retrenched over three hundred workers and is now forcing workers to work on Saturdays.

Perhaps the greatest scandal pertaining to the State’s administration of labour matters lies in the fact that after almost a year the Government has failed to reconstitute the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board. While the Hon. Errol McLeod was a trade union leader, he like other trade union leaders condemned the then government over the same matter. It is ironic now that McLeod the Minister has an opportunity to fix things he has not done so.


Worst Labour Minister ever
Indeed there are many in the labour fraternity who say that he has performed worse than any of his predecessors. Thousands of workers in this country are being denied the right to collective bargaining because of an archaic system of certifying trade unions exacerbated by the non-appointment of a new Board after the expiry of the life of the old Board on 10th January 2014. This is a national scandal!
 

Workers rights to collective bargaining are being denied and this matter affects all trade unions.  I wish to use this occasion of our Conference of Delegates to call for a rights based system of industrial relations in Trinidad and Tobago. Our society is based on denial of rights to the majority. Today our trade union rights have been denied. This must stop! We demand that workers rights be appropriately protected. The law must be clear on workers’ rights.

Panday’s UNC introduced the concept of a universal minimum wage. That regime chose not to amend the nefarious Industrial Relations Act. Manning’s PNM passed a watered down Occupational Safety and Health Act. Persad-Bissessar’s Partnership legislated Maternity Leave of fourteen weeks but it must be noted that a few trade unions including BIGWU had already achieved that standard in some collective agreements.

Failing in its undertaking to amend the IRA, despite the Industrial Relations Advisory Committee (IRAC), having already submitted its report to the cabinet, this government has displayed a most disgraceful performance as far as reform of Labour legislation is concerned. I understand that a consultancy has been awarded to have the matter forwarded. It is almost certain that given the several layers of bureaucracy to which legislation is subjected before assent and proclamation, that we will not see any new law to amend or replace the IRA before the upcoming elections.

Labour legislation will not be pursued with the same vigour and energy as say, the constitutional amendment to introduce run off. Research has shown that the IRA itself was passed within a period of twenty four hours. Legislation can be rushed through both houses of parliament when the ruling class sees the need to repress the working class or to give a legislative pass out of jail to their friends and financiers. Section 34 and the Run Off law were treated with an urgency that the PP government has not attached to labour legislation.

Precarious work has exploded exponentially in this country. Manning entrenched contract labour in the public sector and Persad-Bissessar ensured its proliferation. Labour officers at the Ministry of Labour are all employed on very short term contracts. Not one is a public servant employed within the public service. Imagine we have to appear before contracted labour to grieve contract labour issues. BIGWU supports the ratification of ILO Convention 189 and the inclusion of domestic workers within the definition of workers in the legislation.

SHOOTING ANYONE WITH A BAD COLD by Rae Samuel

posted 27 Oct 2014 09:11 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 27 Oct 2014 09:12 ]

Sierra Leone's government welcomes the first batch of Cuban health-care workers who came to fight Ebola
"Cuba leads the way in Ebola response'' was the lead story on the BBC Latin American segment on Thursday "Divali' October 23, even as the head of the Red Cross/Red Crescent condemned the idea of banning flights and visitors from countries affected by the disease as panicky and non-productive. Cuba has sent in over four hundred and fifty health workers, not soldiers like Britain and the USA, soldiers who have medical training and can set up field hospitals.

The Cuban attitude is based on a principle of "we cannot see our sisters and brothers in Africa suffer and stand by with our arms folded'', a re-affirmation of their established policy of extending international solidarity from an earthquake stricken Pakistan to earthquake and cholera ravaged Haiti, where they succeeded in bringing that U.N. 'gift' under control. It is interesting to note that their President saw them off and none have been reported as asking for $million dollar insurances.

The U.N and other Western agencies have been forced to concede that the Cuban response supersedes that of other countries with much greater resources whose responses have been generally to sew panic and keep the Africans out in the hope that in a few months a vaccine can be found and sold at exorbitant profit to the affected countries..

Why has Ebola in its 38th year of discovery taken off like this? The areas primarily affected have been opened up through investments by Western capital. Go look at the movie "Blood diamond' to understand how these countries 'develop'. It is not about infrastructural development but rather 'extractive mining' something which does not require much investment in health care and other forms of social development; nor do the attendant wars help.

Note also Liberia is the original client state of the USA in Africa and seems to be the hardest hit.

Reading all this has cleared up for me what the Trinidad /Tobago response will be. As in Sierra Leone, the police and army will be sent in to lock down the area. Then, for a price, some privatised medical agency will go in accompanied by a choir of media induced panic: assuming by then we have not begun to shoot Nigerians or anybody with a bad cold. Entering West Shore or St. Clair Medical will prove more difficult than obtaining a U.S. visa.

On the other hand one has no doubt if the relative of a government minister or party financier fell ill that person will be sent to Cuba, or Liberia to find a Cuban doctor.

The ultimate truth is that the population does not trust Minister "Mr Kublalsingh is in perfect health'' Fuad Khan. It is a legacy of their political practices and the way they have run the country. There is a flabbiness in their responses which seem to be led by travel bans rather than visible moves which will re-assure the public.

Are we to hope, again, that God is a Trini and this will pass and let us have Carnival? We may need more, a lot more, than that this time around.

ANOTHER LOOK AT THE HIGHWAY By Eugene Reynald

posted 25 Oct 2014 11:42 by Gerry Kangalee

The entire planning process for the highway including the Request For Proposals (RFP) and the bid invitation was done by then-Minister Imbert and approved by the PNM Cabinet. The UNC came to power and met responses to the RFP already in hand and almost certainly opened.

The entire project was severely criticised by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) who in refusing to fund it also advised against it. It is also important to mention that they were specifically critical and suspicious of the RFP process, the project justification and the project cost.

It was a particularly humiliating experience for Dookeran and the other three Ministers and Public Servants, who were at that fateful meeting. Of course the IDB has been proven right.

The UNC Government rejected the recommendations of the IDB experts and unable to get funding elsewhere they decided to fund the project from recurrent expenditure. This project and others that were hastily planned and implemented in the same ad hoc manner explain why so many necessary projects have been non starters or starved of funds over the last four years – and why there has been such a massive drain on our foreign earnings and repeated budget deficits.

Immediately after the UNC took power and before work started on site, the project moved from about $5b dollars which it was under the PNM to $7.2b under the UNC. It is certainly well over that figure today and climbing.

I should mention, in passing, that the famous Point Lisas Estate Development was rationalised as being feasible based on false inputs and omissions from the concept as put to the public. Expenditures from the public purse on the Caroni Arena Dam and its transmission lines, T&TEC and several other infrastructural costs were later discovered to be unaccounted for in what was called a “feasibility study or business plan”.

Their inclusion later on by UWI-based economists in a review of the project’s feasibility raised serious questions about the integrity and competence of those who took the decision to go ahead with the development most of which had to be sold off in a fire sale not many years later. There is learning here on how Governments cook the books and fool the public while their eyes are open; even though they might just as well be closed.

Back to the Point Fortin Highway and enter Kublalsingh and the Highway Re-route Movement who like the IDB criticised the project and asked for it to be stopped based on, inter alia, deficiencies in the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC). Some of his reasons for doing so echoed those of the IDB and were agreed to by many, particularly the reasons that pointed out the many flaws in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)/CEC related to the project’s environmental and social impacts.

The input of the Courts did not help because they rationalised their decision to not stop or suspend the project by arguing that to do so would have resulted in greater losses than to let it proceed – and they were right. They however erred in refusing to consider and recommend alternative solutions that were within their power so to do. These could have included negotiation/mediation that would have served to address/resolve some of the concerns raised by Kublalsingh and the IDB on terms and conditions acceptable to both parties (like the Armstrong Committee did much later on).

This could have been done in a process that included a risk assessment/management input for measuring, negotiating and mitigating any negative impacts on the contract as identified by the IDB and Kublalsingh. Of course the contract was also indecently and hastily entered into by the State against the advice of the IDB and after such advice was received, in order to “say” that a contract was let and force the decision they got from the Court.

I am sure that no one not even the Courts or even the Armstrong Committee have asked for a copy of the IDB recommendations – and the public needs and deserves an explanation for this. And by the way the Law is not an ass – it has fairly unlimited powers including the power to make Law – it is simply administered by asses.

The Courts decided in favour of the State and this led to Kublalsingh having to put his life on the line during his first fast and in so doing gathering enough support to have Kamla agree to the appointment of a Committee of experts – the Armstrong Committee, to look into the matter and make its recommendations. The State paid for all of this and Kamla agreed to abide by the decision of the Committee.

All of this became necessary to correct the failures of the Court – which could have suggested such a course of action some time before even if it didn’t support the position of Kublalsingh in the matter. The Law effectively failed the citizens and Kublalsingh and put the matter on the road that has led to where it is today.

The committee findings were different to those of the Courts – even though it favoured neither the HRM nor the State. Their recommendations were practical and implementable and were accepted by the HRM.

They proved unacceptable to Kamla who reneged on her commitment to abide by the recommendations of the Committee. We expect politicians to lie to us but not so glaringly, unconscionably and without compunction or rationalisation. This was not Kamla’s first act of treachery and deception on this matter. She and her Team, when in opposition, were ardent supporters of the HRM and in taking office turned completely around. There is a total lack of respect for citizens that is unmistakable in all the aforementioned and what it portends for the country is frightening.

Kublalsingh, after much wasted effort at rational persuasion and failure in the Courts, initiates another bout of fasting and Anand enters the fray with the clear intention of using the Courts to have it validate Kamla’s efforts to keep the Highway Project going.

The questions regarding morality and ethics, as these relate to the Armstrong Committee Report, and Kamla’s role in that process, Anand refuses to address and indeed cannot address. In Anand not doing so Kamla’s record in the matter remains an indelible, undefended, indefensible one. Kublalsingh is clearly on the high ground in this matter and although the end game is still at large, Kamla certainly has lost the key players of integrity and honesty. In another cultural reality the loss of such key players would have forced her to fold and/or run but in this one it is when you get an Anand and go to Court.

The Law got us into this mess and to quote Einstein “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it” and we all know that most of the problems we have in this country are caused directly or indirectly by the Law. Indeed the Courts are theatre where self styled appointees of the Legal fraternity sit and argue among themselves as to what is right in Law and even after that, many decisions (if the party who has lost is still alive and has any money and energy left) are appealed and often ruled against. Of course the entire theatrical farce is paid for by the public.

Kamla cannot afford to let Kublalsingh live and she cannot afford to let him die. If either event takes place he will become a symbol and icon unlike any in our history. If he dies the chronicles on this chapter in our history will have to recall the deceit that led to his demise, and most importantly, the part Kamla played in it all.

The truth is Kamla, like Macbeth, is already so far steeped in blood that for her to return from where she is now would be as tedious as it is for her to go on. She is racing to get certain things done and Anand with the help of the Judiciary are clearing the way for her to achieve her ends. This approach, including manipulating the Law, is also being used to get the Invaders Bay project going as well as various ones in Chaguaramas. In all instances breaches of the Law have taken place in which, yes you guessed it, the Environmental Management Authority was complicit.

With regard to the part being played by the Law it is one in which the Judiciary, notwithstanding the unclean hands of the State (including its agencies) in its breaches of the Law, in most instances finds in favour of the State - once the State says it has already committed itself to contracts which carry penalties if they are stopped. I have seen the Judiciary follow such a procedure without the supposed contracts being tendered in evidence or placed before the Court.

Kublalsingh and the HRM stand no chance against such an unholy alliance – unless the Privy Council takes it upon itself to bring justice to the matter - but that will also depend on what is put before them.

The possibilities for corruption are evident and actual in all of this and the irony of it all is that the function and privilege of the Courts, the Law Association and the Press are there for them to act as a bulwark of citizens against such abuse and tyranny and corruption by the State. Questions necessarily arise when instead their action or inaction facilitates such.

The PNM is doing what it can and should in this matter which is to stay out of it. Any intervention on their part in defence of Kublalsingh or the HRM, given their role in the history of the project, would only do damage to the cause. This is one of the People vs. Kamla and the Law.

What Kublalsingh is about is saving the society and its citizens from the Philistines that have taken occupancy of our high places. Few in the history of the world have had the courage to do as he is doing and none in this country. What he represents is hope and intelligence amidst the darkness and senselessness we see around us in the wanton and mindless destruction of the environment which gives to us the life that we enjoy and cherish - for as brief a time as that may be.

His is a selfless and solitary sacrifice and a peaceful struggle against an establishment that is intent on obliterating him and what he represents. There is much more but for this alone he deserves respect and support from all citizens because far more so than the charlatans who drove him to this and are still actively trying to use, destroy and/or discredit him, he is about matters that will ensure a better quality of life for us - and indeed all life.

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