Trade union leaders say they do not intend to rejoin the National Tripartite Advisory Committee (NTAC) unless legislation is brought to the Parliament to govern its operations.
In his Labour Day message on June 19, Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie urged labour leaders to return to the NTAC, saying they should avoid operating in silos and avoiding dialogue just because it might be hard to find a middle ground.
Mc Clashie said then, the country would only progress towards decent work by “a collective effort comprised of labour, business and government representatives, the very basis of social dialogue and tripartism.”
He added the NTAC mirrors the work of the International Labour Organization by providing a forum for members of a tripartite body to advance workers interests.
In April 2021, the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), the Joint Trade Union Movement and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions claimed the NTAC was dead. They withdrew, saying their participation in it was sacrilegious to the objectives of the labour movement.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, after delivering a copy of the labour movement’s no-confidence motion against the government to THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine at the Division of Finance, Trade and the Economy, Scarborough, NATUC general secretary Michael Annisette said the government has not engaged the movement genuinely.
“We know why we left NTAC. And until and unless there is a genuine attempt by this government to genuinely engage the labour movement in meaningful discussions, we are not going back there. We would not be used as a PR stunt by this government,” he said.
“And I am saying too that we are of the considered view that the question of the NTAC must be legislated. It must be put in legislation so that the question of labour, business and government meeting at that level would be part of a legislation. That means the government cannot manipulate it as they see fit. And when another government comes in, they do something different.”
Saying such legislation exists in Grenada and other islands, Annisette accused the government of removing labour representatives from boards other than those in which the law states there must be a labour representative.
“You cannot treat us with that scorn and disregard and when we are there (in the NTAC) and we raise issues, there is nothing that has been done in the best interest of labour. Where is the legislative agenda that we have been asking for?
Annisette, who is also the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union’ general secretary, said if a company is not operational and closes down, workers are not entitled to any benefits.
‘That is a reality in Trinidad and Tobago in the 21st century.”
He recalled the unions had tried in vain to raise the closure of Petrotrin at the NTAC and the Prime Minister had rejected the idea.
“Those are realities. So then we are not going to play that game. We are going to come back there (NTAC) when there is seriousness and when there is a willingness to really engage the labour movement in meaningful and genuine discussion for the betterment of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Joint Trade Union Movement leader Ancel Roget lamented that thousands of workers were sent home while they were in NTAC.
“So we were there as window-dressing and the labour movement is not about that.”
He said Mc Clashie, who was not in the Cabinet when the NTAC was established, must research and understand that the comprehensive statement they had made when they left the body.
“If that is not fixed and they are not serious, therefore the issue of window-dressing, we are not about that.”
Roget also noted that no labour legislation has been brought to the Parliament within recent times to protect workers.