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THE NEW NORMAL – LAYOFF UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE/RETRENCHMENT by Gerry Kangalee

posted 5 Jun 2020, 15:04 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 5 Jun 2020, 16:24 ]
It is clear that the employers are using the Covid period to step up the organised attack on workers’ rights and entitlements that the business elites decided upon since March 2018. The one percent and the employers decided two years ago on a strategy designed to weaken workers power in order to shift income away from working people and into their already fat bank accounts. (see sidebar)

The employers have come up with a strategy that involves further weakening the unions while ensuring that non-unionised workers know and stay in their place.


They want to remove the provision in law that says that a worker, whether previously unionised or not, must be represented by a union in the industrial court.


They want to have the right to examine unions’ financial status (the books) when unions make applications for recognition.


They want what they call small and micro enterprise employers to be exempt from punishment for unfair dismissals and from the procedures that apply to other employers when it comes to trade disputes.


They want to make it illegal for the Recognition Board to grant recognised majority union status to a bargaining unit of less than twenty workers.


They want unions to be decertified for bargaining units that fall below the magic number (twenty).


They are against domestic workers being treated like “workers” under the law, despite the government supporting . and promising to enable it through legislation.


They are “vehemently” against contributing toward a severance fund, such as applies in Barbados and have vowed to resist it.


They want unions to pay costs in matters that employers win in the industrial court.


They are against workers who have been unjustly dismissed being re-instated.


They want to be able to retrench so-called “contract workers” at will.


They want to cut back on leave provisions in collective agreements.


They have developed legal mechanisms to delay and frustrate the already long drawn out process of recognition which they tried out in the frustration of the RBC recognition struggle by BIGWU.


They want restrictions on appeals against industrial court judgements to be removed.


They want judges in the industrial court to come largely from the “private sector”.


They have set up a high level legal team to oppose and obstruct judgements coming out of the industrial court that are not in their favour and they have decided that the President of the Industrial Court must be removed.

We must remember that thousands of workers have been thrown in the bamboo at Arcelor Mittal, Petrotrin and TSTT; hundreds of workers at Unilever have been thrown on the streets, as have workers at UTT, IOCL, Centrin, Yara, Trinidad Cement, Agostini’s and so many other workplaces. Workers must stand up and fight, not just at a particular work place but as a united working class. If we do not, then we will have to lie down and take the shaft!


STORK TECHNICAL SERVICES


On April 1st nineteen hourly rated/weekly paid workers employed with Stork Technical Services received letters of temporary layoff until further notice. Further to that, thirty-two workers were given retrenchment notices. These notices were given to the workers without the company having any discussion with the recognised majority union – the Oilfields Workers Trade Union.

This is contrary to Section 4.1 of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefit Act which states an employer “…shall give formal notice of termination in writing to each involved worker, to the recognised majority union and to the Minister”.

The company’s action also goes counter to Section 5 of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefit Act which states an “… employer may, prior to the giving of formal notice in writing of retrenchment, enter into consultation with the recognised majority union with a view to exploring the possibility of averting, reducing or mitigating the effects of the proposed retrenchment”.

Stork Trinidad and Tobago, a subsidiary of Stork with headquarters in the Netherlands, has a presence in Point Lisas, Galeota and Aranguez and has served the Trinidad and Tobago market for 35 years. Its website claims it has over 650 employees.

This transnational company has approximately 18,000 employees in over 100 countries and provides what it calls “both the technical solutions and the execution, we are uniquely positioned to support our Oil & Gas clients onshore and offshore, from design right through hook-up, construction and commissioning to operations, shutdowns and, ultimately, decommissioning or relocation”.

Stork is part of the Fluor group of companies – an enterprise which has done construction work in this country.


ELECTRICAL INDUSTRIES GROUP


EIG Head Honcho Dave Ramkissoon
On the morning of June 2nd, a number of workers at EIG Plastics in Macoya were given termination letters. This is the climax of a vicious strategy of attacking workers’ entitlements and reducing their income. The recognised majority union at EIG is the Transport and Industrial Workers Union.


Before this, some workers were sent home on temporary layoff on the supposed ground of observing social distancing. This ended on 31st May. When they returned to work they were given letters extending temporary layoffs until further notice. It is clear that they were testing the waters.

During Covid 19, EIG Plastics was deemed essential and never stopped operating except on public holidays when they did not want to pay the workers overtime rates. What they did do was to change up how the continuous 24/7 shifts were organised. This resulted in chaos and confusion and in many cases loss of income to the workers Where there were four shifts they were split in half to make eight shifts – 6 days on ten days off.

For workers to maintain income they had to use their vacation to cover the four days to make a fortnight. They were, in fact, having to pay themselves for those four days. The way the shifts ran resulted in fluctuations in pay from one fortnight to the next.

A Joint Survey was done by the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA). 394 businesses in Trinidad and Tobago were recorded. 

The survey was titled Economic impact assessment of COVID-19 on Services & Manufacturing Sectors

It revealed that36% of businesses surveyed had terminated fulltime employees and 55% of businesses surveyed have terminated part time or contractual employees. 

For companies who did not terminate staff, 58% were furloughed (temporary layoff) employees. Among these companies, 67% have furloughed at least 25% of their workers comprising of both full-time and part-time employees.  

Furthermore, those employers who did not terminate staff, 50% resorted to a reduction in wages. Most of the companies surveyed reduced wages by at least 26%

Most workers terminated were from arts, entertainment and recreation, tourism, manufacturing, food processors and drinks and the construction sector. 

Some workers were sent home without any written reasons; forcing workers to use their vacation leave.


Three out of the five cleaners were sent home. The remaining two had their work hours cut and their workload increased. The company even tried to get operators to do cleaners jobs.

While these violations were taking place the company ducked the union, refused to acknowledge requests for meetings, agreed to meet and then called off meetings.

They have implemented changes to working conditions without the agreement of the union and feel quite satisfied that they would be able to ride rough-shod over the workers and get away with it. The ball is now in the workers’ court to defend their hard-earned rights and entitlements.


NEWSDAY

Newsday has put forty of its employees, members of the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union, on temporary layoff for three months. Informed opinion suggests that this action is a precursor to retrenchment later down the road

This company has a number of matters with the union due for hearing in the industrial court, including one where they tried to unilaterally impose a defined contribution pension plan on its employees by attempting to bypass the union. A defined contribution plan is generally quite inferior to a defined benefit plan. The NWU has learnt that the company tried to register this unilaterally impose plan with the Central Bank, but the bank did not register the plan.


MASSY MOTORS


News coming to hand is that Massy Motors has put a number of workers in their Leasing Division on a three-month temporary layoff due to end on August 31st. This company, part of one of the largest conglomerates in the Caribbean, is so concerned about the ability of the workers they are laying off to go without salary, that they are offering the workers an interest free loan of up to 50% of salary with a flexible repayment plan. Oh how generous capitalists can be! They will jook out your eye and then offer you Visine! The recognised majority union is All Trinidad General Workers Union.

It is clear that the employers are using the Covid period to step up the organised attack on workers’ rights and entitlements that the business elites decided upon since March 2018. The one percent and the employers decided two years ago on a strategy designed to weaken workers power in order to shift income away from working people and into their already fat bank accounts. (see sidebar)

We must remember that thousands of workers have been thrown in the bamboo at Arcelor Mittal, Petrotrin and TSTT; hundreds of workers at Unilever have been thrown on the streets, as have workers at UTT, IOCL, Centrin, Yara, Trinidad Cement, Agostini’s and so many other workplaces.

Workers must stand up and fight, not just at a particular work place, but as a united working class. If we do not, then we will have to lie down and take the shaft!
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Gerry Kangalee,
5 Jun 2020, 16:24
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