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posted 12 Jul 2011, 10:51 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Jul 2011, 04:09 ]


by Gerry Kangalee

At the infamous post-cabinet media conference of July 7th, Minister Tewarie made two assertions that must be clarified. One was that the labour movement was a partner in the government. The other was that the unions should return to the table because the government was willing to negotiate but not in public.

The People’s Partnership is made up of five organisations: UNC, TOP, NJAC, COP and MSJ. None of these organisations is a union or a union federation. MSJ was formed just before the 2010 elections and sought endorsement from the April 18th Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers (COSSABO) held at OWTU headquarters in San Fernando. That endorsement was not forthcoming.

As far as can be ascertained OWTU and CWU did formally endorse the MSJ, but are not part of the government. Labour personalities, who are members of the MSJ include, among others: Errol McLeod, David Abdulah, Ancel Roget, Vincent Cabrera and Joseph Remy.

These individuals have the right to join a political party of their choice and to support whichever government they find fit. But it does not follow that because some labour leaders and ex labour leaders are members of an organisation, that organisation represents the labour movement. Dr. Tewarie’s pleadings notwithstanding, the labour movement is certainly not a partner in the PP government.

Dr. Tewarie talks about government being willing to negotiate and the trade unions must get back to the table. The critical issue in any negotiation is wages, particularly in a situation of rising price levels. According to the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union, during the period 2006 to 2011 Government’s expenditure grew from $37.7B to $48.9B. However during the period 2007 to 2010, the percentage of government’s expenditure on salaries and wages fell from 20.7% to 17.9%.

Over the period 2001 to 2010, the share of public service wages and salaries as part of government’s current revenue declined from 30.6% to 15.6%.”

According to the Retail Price Index (RPI) published by the Central Statistical Office, the general price level in March 2011 was 80 % higher than it was in 2003 when the RPI was rebased.

Over that same period food prices rose 296%. In low wage economies like ours food prices take a huge bite out of wages and salaries. In 2003 Food’s weight in the re-based RPI was 18% and this did not include eating out. It is expected that when the RPI is rebased in 2013, Food’s weight will probably be increased, particularly as the Food and Agricultural Organisation is extremely concerned about the spiralling increases in international food prices. 

Once the government as a matter of policy puts a 5% cap on wage offers in the State sector then they have turned wage negotiations around the table into a farce. It is, therefore, just low dodges on the government’s part to ask unions to return to the table.

Trade unions have never left the table. Not one negotiation has been referred to the Ministry of Labour. Not one negotiation has ended up in the industrial court. There have been no legal strikes or lockouts associated with this round of negotiations. So, what the hell are Bhoe Tewarie and his sidekick Errol McLeod talking about?

Some negotiations, despite the best efforts of the unions involved have not even started. TTPost has refused to put counter proposals on the table, even though the Postal Workers’ Union submitted proposals last year and their last contract period expired in 2008. Who must return to the table, Bhoe? You better instruct TTPOST management to come to the table, before chaos erupts in the postal service!

The Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union (TIWU) after several months of trying to get MTS management to begin negotiations for the period expiring in June 2011 had to threaten protest action to get management to the table. Management’s excuse was that MTS had no board in place. But Boards do not negotiate with unions. Managements do.

Some negotiations are taking place formally, but no wage offers have been made, which makes a farce of the whole affair. No wage offers at Petrotrin, National Petroleum or T&TEC. All of these contract periods expire during the course of 2011. Bhoe or Errol or whoever should instruct these managements to engage in serious negotiations instead of trying to mamaguy the public that the union is being disruptive and pig-headed. UWI Monthly paid has been offered 3%. Their contract expires in December. UWI Daily Paid have two negotiating rounds outstanding and the present round expires this year.

The CPO is trying to coerce the teachers into abandoning the mechanism they have used since 2000 as the basis for their negotiations – the external labour market survey. The daily paid unions have been at the table for months and still seem to be spinning top in mud.

There are many more examples of government policy affecting negotiations in the state sector that could be cited but the point has been more than amply made.

On another note: The trade unions do not want to negotiate with the government. They want the government to allow their (the government's) duly appointed negotiators to have the freedom to engage in collective bargaining. The Workers’ Agenda demanded that the Public Sector Negotiating Committee (PSNC) be disbanded. This was a long-standing grievance the trade unions had with the PNM government.

More than a year after the PP government has come into power, the Labour Day Accord is calling for the “Immediate removal of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (a rose by any other name) allowing for free and fair collective bargaining in all sectors”  As the old people would say Massa Bull; Massa Cow or, if you will, PNM gone; PNM dey!

It is clear for those who do not suffer from self-inflicted blindness that the CPO and the managements of state enterprises have been instructed to stay within the 5% ceiling and no amount of spin doctoring or smoke and mirror tactics by Bhoe and Errol will change the perception of governmental wage suppression and duplicity. Advice to the two gentlemen: do not take workers for fools!