The Industrial Court delivered a judgement on 18 February 2022 and ruled that it would be too expensive for T&TEC to pay any increased salaries at this time. As such the workers at the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) were not awarded any salary increases for the period 2015 to 2017.
T&TEC submitted that, as a state body, it could only act on the direction of Government and the Company had received no instructions to counter offer the Union’s proposed 12 per cent increase or its suggestions on how to raise revenue.
In the judgement, the Industrial Court stated that, in dealing with salary and allowance increases, especially for state enterprises for a new collective agreement, it takes into account the following conditions among others:
- (1) The prevailing general increases awarded for the period in question throughout the country;
- (2) The timeliness of the dispute being sent to the court;
- (3) The present financial status of the organisation named in the dispute;
- (4) The state of the country’s economy when there is reliance on the State by a state enterprise or statutory body.
More importantly in addition to the above the court is mandated to take into consideration the provision of Section 10 (3) (a) & (b) of the IRA, which states as follows:
‘Notwithstanding anything in this Act or in any other rule of law to the contrary, the Court in the exercise of its powers shall—
(a) make such order or award in relation to a dispute before it as it considers fair and just, having regard to the interests of the persons immediately concerned and the community as a whole;
(b) act in accordance with equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case before it, having regard to the principles and practices of good industrial relations.’
The Court, however, expressed a difficulty in balancing the interests of persons immediately concerned and the interests of the community as a whole as stipulated in Section 10 (3) (a).
This judgement raises the following questions: How much weight was placed on the conditions which the Court takes into consideration? Is it ‘just’ for workers to live on 2014 salaries in 2022? Is it ‘fair’ for employers to drag out matters at the Industrial Court for years? Is it ‘just’ for the State to not pay its bills and for T&TEC to pass on that cost to workers?
Further, the financial struggles of T&TEC were not the fault of the workers yet they were being made to bear the burden. Additionally, the Union argued that it did all it could to settle the negotiations within the specified period.
The judgement, however, stated that ‘the Company’s financial position during the period in question is of little relevance now because the Company seems to be facing bankruptcy at this time’.
So, the Industrial Court, whose vision is to be fair, equitable and expeditious in dispensing social justice, stated in its judgement that ‘while we are convinced that the Union is deserving of an increase in salary under normal circumstances, we are equally convinced that the Commission is not in a position to pay anything at this point in time. Should the court make an award in favour of the Union and the Commission is forced to pay, the logical result will be retrenchment.’
There appears to be a contradiction between the Court’s vision and this judgement, which in effect is a huge blow struck against social justice!