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Dear Editor: Government spinning Anansi stories to suppress workers’ wages

“[…] Minister Imbert has […] set the stage for entrenching the austerity programme the IMF has long been advising: privatisation, deregulation, the reduction of the public sector, wage suppression.

“This austerity, of course, involves the weakening of the trade unions through the hiving off of the health sector, a de facto wage freeze at 2013 rates, the wholesale introduction of fixed-term contracts over recent decades and the seduction of trade union leaders by the conglomerates and the political parties …”

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted to Wired868 by Gerry Kangalee, education and research officer at the National Workers’ Union:

Photo: Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, .
(Courtesy Annalisa Caruth/Wired868)

Well, here we go again. Whenever this government wants to privatise or suppress workers’ wages and salaries, they spin Anansi stories about, in Minister of Finance Colm Imbert’s words, ‘excessive wage increases’ and invent fantasies about high levels of wages that unnamed workers receive.

Remember the mythical carpenter at the Pointe-A-Pierre refinery whose wage was $40,000 per month? Of course, there was no such occupational classification in the refinery, but a case had to be made to convince the public that something had to be done. Something was done.

The refinery has been shuttered for more than two years; thousands of workers have been retrenched and the economy of the Southland, in particular, has been devastated. So when these political hustlers; these confidence tricksters; these agents of foreign capital and the one per cent tell you to stand up, is best you run!

So the government has already signalled its intention to privatise the port in Port of Spain, to further divest the Point Lisas Industrial Port Development Company, to dismantle National Petroleum, free up the price of fuel and place the fuel sector in the hands of private operators (financiers? party hacks?).

It is also frantically looking for a foreign (Chinese?) investor to take control of our pitch lake and get rid of the Trinidad Lake Asphalt company. It is clear that WASA is getting rid of half its workforce.

Photo: NP gas station (via np.co.tt)

Is it any surprise, therefore, that Minister Imbert has set his sights on National Petroleum and has blamed the industrial court for awarding a wage increase of 7% for the period 2011-2014 which, he claims, ‘As a result of that award by the industrial court, NP is now running at a loss every month in the vicinity of 15 to 20 million dollars’?

This statement was made on 26 January 2021 at the 12th sitting of the Senate. A little later in the statement, he went on to say that NP had to find $200m per month.

In a statement issued at a press conference on 10 February, the minister stated: “NP has moved from barely breaking even to a loss position of over $50m in 2020, which is just not sustainable.” If you are confused over the differences in the figures, join the club!

In a statement dated 14 February, Minister Imbert said (referring to himself): “The minister did not refer to a wage increase of 11% at this press conference.”

But he did state in the Senate on 26 January: “I know it is within the range of 10 to 11% salary increase.”

Embed from Getty Images

Again, when politicians tell you run, is best you stand up!

All this rigmarole that Minister Imbert has gone into is really to set the stage for entrenching the austerity programme the IMF has long been advising: privatisation, deregulation, the reduction of the public sector, wage suppression.

This austerity, of course, involves the weakening of the trade unions through the hiving off of the health sector, a de facto wage freeze at 2013 rates, the wholesale introduction of fixed-term contracts over recent decades and the seduction of trade union leaders by the conglomerates and the political parties.

Now that it is convinced that the trade union movement is no longer able to protect, advance and defend the interests of working people in a consistent and militant fashion, the government has turned its attention to the industrial court. This is ironic because the industrial court was set up to curb the gains the working class had made through exercising the power of numbers and the power over production.

To a large extent, 50 years later, it has more or less succeeded in extracting the militant teeth of the trade unions, and the very court which channelled union militancy into bush lawyerism is now on the chopping block. Why?

Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement protests against Section 34 during the People’s Partnership Government’s administration.

The very weakness of the trade unions at the workplace has shifted the class struggle from the point of production into the industrial court. The court, while not dispensing ‘justice’—a concept which has nothing to do with the law—at least offers some remedy to the grievous exploitation by employers.

So here we are, in the midst of social and economic collapse, with workers struggling to keep their families whole, having to deal with Mr ‘dey-ent-riot-yet’ threatening to throw more workers on the breadline.

In his own words on 10 February: “… by next month, the retail fuels sector should be fully liberalised, thus removing the requirement for a fuel subsidy…We also expect that the Regulated Industries Commission will adjudicate on appropriate levels of water and electricity rates in 2021 …

“In this context, demands from Trade Unions for wage increases, with associated billions of dollars in back pay, are difficult to understand … if excessive wage increases are granted in the state sector, then employment levels may have to be reduced …”

There you have it from the horse’s mouth: shut up and behave allyuh self. If allyuh try to keep up with cost of living you will end up on the street. Our response should be, like Brother Resistance: the people ent taking dat so! The people ent taking dat!

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