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NWU: The one percent, with govt’s help, is eroding protection of Industrial Court; time to fight back

“The one percent has, it seems, taken full control of the industrial relations policy of the government. This is not surprising because these mark-up merchants are the ones who finance the leading political parties and, as is well known, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

“The government has been assiduously serving the interests of the one percent, in that it has taken the lead in eliminating jobs in the state enterprise sector and in downsizing the public service and turning it into a nightmare for contract workers…”

The following press statement calling for ‘a campaign of direct action against the one percent’ was issued by the National Workers Union (NWU):

Photo: A satirical take on the relationship between business and the union.
(Copyright Carol Simpson)

The employers, led by the one percent, have launched the most vicious assault on the rights, entitlements and interests of working people, both unionised and non-unionised. The campaign, started by the business owners/employers in March 2018 in an attempt to immobilise the workers’ movement, is coming swiftly to a climax.

The latest tactic of the employers is to get rid of industrial court judges who may have a grasp of industrial relations and to replace them with bobble heads of the ‘one percent’.

As their contracts come to an end, many judges are being released and replaced by others who are ignorant of the dynamics of industrial relations but who are loyal to the business class and/or to the political party in government, which is itself obligated to its financiers of the one percent.

Since March last year the Industrial Court has come under constant attack from the employers. The propaganda has been intense. They have utilised the Guardian—which has always been a mouthpiece of the one percent—to demonise the trade union movement, its leaders and particular industrial court judges, including the President of the Court.

They have appealed judgements of the industrial court using high maintenance lawyers, knowing full well that in the overwhelming majority of cases they are not going to be successful. But the idea is to drag out and delay matters and frustrate and weaken an already weak trade union movement; and to ensure that long suffering workers do not enjoy the minimal remedy that may be available at the Industrial Court. They boast that they have deep pockets and carry the workers for a run.

Photo: Workers at Petrotrin refinery.
(Copyright Industriall.union.org)

Why is the focus on the court now? The vast majority of workers are not unionised and union membership continues to shrink as more and more workers are retrenched.

The employers are smelling blood. They are no longer afraid of the power of unionised workers. They have succeeded in compromising many trade union leaders. They have succeeded in shifting the struggle between capital and labour from the work place and the streets to the Industrial Court.

The trade union movement has for years been calling for security of tenure for Industrial Court judges who are all contract employees appointed by the Cabinet which gives the governing party enormous sway over the quality of judgements delivered by the court. Like many other contract employees, the judges of the Industrial Court have no job security and are subject to political pressure.

The one percent has, it seems, taken full control of the industrial relations policy of the government. This is not surprising because these mark-up merchants are the ones who finance the leading political parties and, as is well known, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

The government has been assiduously serving the interests of the one percent, in that it has taken the lead in eliminating jobs in the state enterprise sector and in downsizing the public service and turning it into a nightmare for contract workers.

Photo: A satirical take on the relationship between businesses and unions.
(Copyright Carol Simpson)

What do the employers and the one percent want? The objective is to maximise their profits by minimising their labour costs; by demoralising their workforce through retrenchment, wage suppression and the cutting back of hard won benefits. They want to have the freedom to make maximum use of multi-skilling and to be able to write job descriptions that are open to manipulation.

Ninety percent or more of the matters that are decided in the Industrial Court are from workers who are not members of a recognised majority union bargaining unit. 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).
Photo: A satirical take on the relationship between businesses and unions.
(Copyright Carol Simpson)
  • They are against domestic workers being treated like ‘workers’ under the law, despite the government pretending to support ILO recommendation 189 and promising to enable it through legislation.
  • 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 developed to frustrate the RBC recognition struggle by BIGWU.
  • They want restrictions on appeals against Industrial Court judgements to be removed.

What the one percent and the ruling party do not understand is that the gutting of the Industrial Court and the introduction of legislation to further the interests of the business and political elites will have the effect of shifting the workers’ struggles for economic security back to the workplace and the streets.

Instead of ensuring dominance over their workers, it will lead to an intensification of the class struggle, which will not be restricted to industrial relations issues, but will involve the question of the quality of life and, inevitably, to the question of how power is exercised, who exercises it and in whose interest it is exercised. The employers and the government are ordering what they cannot eat!

Photo: An All Trinidad General Trade Workers Union protest.
(Courtesy ATGTWU)

The National Workers Union (NWU) demands that government holds its hand on the appointing of judges; while it moves to scrap the contract system for Industrial Court judges and institutes a system of appointment based on security of tenure.

The National Workers Union calls on the trade union federations and all trade unions to condemn this vicious plot by the employers and to engage in a mass education campaign both within the unions and for the mass of non-unionised workers who are facing the brunt of the attacks and for the general population.

The National Workers Union calls upon the trade unions to convene an all union Conference of Shop Stewards and Branch Officers to strategise and kick off a campaign of direct action to beat back this vicious assault on workers’ rights, entitlements, standard of living and quality of life.

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3 comments

  1. The union leaders are complicit in this. The only leader making themselves heard is Watson Duke and for political reasons.

  2. Patos, the best PM in the history of T&T, would never have allowed this sell-out of T&T and the war on Labour.

  3. Like this article. Many good points