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LABOUR MINISTER BREAKS DOWN T&TEC NEGOTIATIONS

posted 21 Jul 2011, 21:58 by Gerry Kangalee

In an article headlined McLeod Cools Protest by Clint Chan Tack in Newsday issue of July 21 2011 it is stated thatLabour Minister Errol McLeod succeeded in cooling tensions between the management of the TT Electricity Commission (TTEC) and the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) which erupted following a breakdown in negotiations between both parties last Friday.”

There was no breakdown in negotiations. What is popularly called a breakdown in negotiations is what is referred to in the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) as the reporting of a trade dispute to the Minister of Labour.

 

Sections 51-55 of the IRA lays out the procedure for reporting a trade dispute to the Minister (break down). If parties see no future in continuing bilateral talks to arrive at a collective agreement the negotiations are said to have broken down and are reported to the Minister of Labour for conciliation. Neither T&TEC’s management nor the union reported a trade dispute to the Minister.

 

What happened is that the Minister invoked a little-used section of the IRA (section 56) which states: 56. (1) Notwithstanding sections 51 to 55 (inclusive), the Minister may intervene in any dispute at any time before a report is made or deemed to have been made for the purpose of advising the parties thereto and of conciliation with a view to the settlement thereof.”

Despite the procedure for reporting a trade dispute being spelled out in detail, the Minister has the power to short circuit the whole process and to deem the negotiations to have broken down. This is what Minister McLeod did. This, of course, makes a mockery of the procedure; yet another reason why the IRA must be repealed and replaced.

The article goes on to say: “McLeod’s intervention averted industrial action at the electricity company, sparing the country from a potential disruption in the transmission of electricity.” T&TEC is deemed an essential service by the IRA and thus its workers are forbidden by law from taking strike action, so the intervention didn’t “spare the country” anything.

 

The article states further: “the union staged protests in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando in response to the breakdown in negotiations.” TTEC workers have been protesting for months against the five percent wage cap. This was a heightening of that campaign.

 

The article says: “it became evident that an agreement was reached… ” The only agreement that was reached was that parties agreed to continue discussions. It also said: “McLeod said he decided to intervene after he learnt about the breakdown in talks…”  This is contradicted by a further statement the Minister is cited as saying: “given the importance of TTEC “to almost everything else in the country,” he thought it was an appropriate time to intervene. “I intervened in accordance with Section 56 of the Industrial Relations Act, deeming a report of a breakdown in negotiations to have been made.”

 

It is clear that neither management nor the union broke down the negotiations, but rather that the Minister of Labour has inserted himself into the negotiations and has initiated the conciliation process. In other words, the Minister of Labour broke down the negotiations. If the five percent cap and the proposal to eliminate indexed COLA are not removed during this phase, parties will not settle the negotiations.

 

Is the Minister, then, going to railroad the negotiations into the court? Workers in non-essential services are legally entitled to take strike action if conciliation does not work. T&TEC workers do not have that option…but they control the power. It certainly looks like dark days ahead, if the Persad-Bissessar government does not correct its anti-worker course.

 

Gerry Kangalee

National Education and Research Officer

National Workers’ Union.

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