Trade unions representing public sector workers in Trinidad and Tobago have warned the government that unless it removes the five percent wage increase offer it has on the table within the next two weeks, there will be a “mammoth” national strike that would affect all sectors in the twin-island federation.
The ultimatum was given in one of the documents delivered to the Office of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday, after hundreds of trade union members and supporters took part in a march that ended at the Diplomatic Centre, where police formed a barricade between them and the entrance. The letter was received by the Prime Minister’s Permanent Secretary.
Speaking to workers gathered outside the building, Ancel Roget, president of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) which is one of the 18 unions demanding a higher pay increase for members, said: “As night follows day, if they do not resolve this issue, we can assure them that we are going to engage in a strike of mammoth proportions, a national strike in the likes of which this country has not seen in a very long time.”
“Given our numerous attempts at reasonably averting this crisis, and given your Government’s inflexible approach, we wish again to make it abundantly clear that the trade union movement cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes,” he added.
The unions have flatly rejected a five percent increase over a three-year period offered by the Persad-Bissessar administration as settlement of terms and conditions of employment for the 2008-2010 period, which includes the consolidation of the existing Cost of Living Allowance for each year. The latest offer would see workers paid two percent for 2008, one percent for 2009 and two percent for 2010, along with a TT$2,000 (US$315.95) lump sum payment.
Government has urged the unions to come back to the negotiating table, but the workers’ bargaining agents have made it clear that there will be no dialogue until the five percent pay offer is removed.
Minister of Labour, Small and Micro Enterprise Development Errol McLeod, a former trade union leader, has offered to meet with the unions to persuade them to continue talks.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet press conference yesterday, Minister of Planning and the Economy Dr. Bhoe Tewarie said the government was willing to negotiate, but “it is not right to begin the negotiation process in the public sphere”.
“That is the whole point of trying to sit and work out things and to sit and work around the table so we move from points of departure to points of convergence. And that is what we would like to do,” he said.
“If we find ourselves at the table I feel you can make the assumption that the spirit will be, negotiations are open, but you cannot negotiate to negotiate and we are not prepared to do that.”
Minister McLeod also urged the unions not to allow the negotiations to take place in the media.
He said if talks don’t work, there are other procedures that would bring about a resolution, but he insisted that “public negotiations was a distraction”.
Minister Tewarie said he no doubt the Prime Minister would take into consideration the letter delivered by the unions yesterday.