We ‘love up’ on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, you tell the world that you are no longer in a relationship with me. That is a description of the real-life drama that unfolded as the leaders of the trade union federations exited the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).
It is reminiscent of those women who cleared out their marital home while their partners were at work, and the partner returned to find an empty space with their clothes on the bedroom floor. Most times the women cite disrespect, abuse and neglect as the reasons for their departure. It is almost the same reasons given by the national trade union movement for why they left the NTAC organisation.
The hapless husband, in this case, the newly minted minister of labour, Stephen Mc Clashie, admitted that barely 24 hours before, he had chaired a meeting and discussed how to foster stronger relationships between the government, labour and business, so he was surprised by this move.
In the lead up to the 2015 general elections, the Ambassador Hotel was often the venue for joint talks with the now prime minister and the leaders of the trade union movement, so it was no surprise that NTAC was established to ensure a unity of purpose between the government, business sector and labour.
At that time there was a clear vision that national development required dialogue and agreement by these strange bedfellows. By 2020, disgruntlement had set in, and the former senator/minister of labour slid out of office, unlikely to return.
The 60-month existence of NTAC has been brutal for workers, with no legislation being brought before parliament and thousands of workers being retrenched, laid off or having their contracts terminated. The biggest insult to the trade unions was when the former chairman of Petrotrin agitatedly responded to a question about the number of persons who would be retrenched from Petrotrin by saying: ‘All … Alll … Allllll.’
Labour’s insecurity has been intensified by the ongoing pandemic, which provides the government with an excellent excuse, and maybe an opportunity, to once and for all annihilate the trade unions.
Let me caution, that the same 10 or 20 thousand workers who were mobilised with the help of the trade unions to march with the current prime minister against the People’s Partnership government can again be mobilised to take action against his People’s National Movement government.
To add to the misery of the minister of labour, the minister of planning and development also indicated her surprise by labour’s walk away. ‘Houston … we have a problem’ can be changed to ‘Houston … we have an opportunity’, but it will require humility, respect, care and collaboration.
For the sake of the country’s development, I hope that the unions will soften and facilitate the reconciliation of the relationship. Sometimes strong action is needed to communicate a point, but often, empathy, understanding and a spirit of collaboration can ensure a resolution.