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posted 6 Apr 2013, 05:10 by Gerry Kangalee

Comrade Dave Smith, General Secretary of the National Workers Union (NWU) provides an update on two applications for recognition the NWU has made to the Recognition Board. (See video).

The process of trade unions winning legal recognition for particular groups of workers is governed by the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), the cornerstone of employment law in Trinidad and Tobago. After political independence in 1962, the Government passed the Industrial Stabilisation Act in 1965 which effectively banned strikes. This was subsequently amended in 1972 to become the Industrial Relations Act (IRA). Described as having the aim to make better provision for the stabilisation, improvement and promotion of industrial relations, the IRA:

  • prohibits strikes in rights matters
  • prohibits strikes in 'essential services' and many other areas
  • makes it illegal for unions to represent more than one group of workers in so-called “essential industries”
  • excludes certain groups of workers from being legally recognised as workers
  • Makes provision for decertification of unions
  • requires conciliation at the Ministry of Labour
  • establishes an Industrial Court to provide for compulsory arbitration
  • provides for compulsory union recognition – but only after a tedious legal procedure determined by the Registration Recognition and Certification Board

Under this law a Registration, Recognition and Certification Board is established which controls the process which is fraught with delay and bureaucratic stumbling blocks and gives employers the opportunity to victimise and dismiss workers who choose to join a union.  

Gaining recognition becomes a long, frustrating, exercise which seems more designed to turn off workers from exercising their constitutional right to join a trade union of their choice than to expediting the process. Of course the IRA, which was enacted in 1972 during a state of emergency is a pro-employer law designed to circumscribe, indeed suppress the functioning of trade unionism.

In October 2012, the National Workers Union wrote the Recognition Board requesting a meeting to discuss issues pertaining to recognition. On 26th February 2013 the Joint Trade Union Movement also wrote the Board calling for such a meeting. No meeting has yet taken place.

On April 18th 2010 a Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers (COSSABO) of the Joint Trade Union Movement held at OWTU headquarters, San Fernando adopted the Workers Agenda, which, in part, deals with the question of labour law reform