The People’s National Movement (PNM) has always been anti-labour! In the last five years, that was certainly the case.
Remember, it was the Patrick Manning Government in 2003 who closed down the entire sugar industry in Trinidad. Thousands of people were affected and were promised land. In 2020, some of the former sugar workers are still waiting for their leases; many have died and the rest are financially broken.
The PNM Government rose to power in September 2015, using labour as one its pillars to rescue Trinidad and Tobago from the People’s Partnership alliance. They appointed as its Minister of Labour, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, a former President of the Public Services Association (PSA). But what a disaster she has turned out to be!
More than 50,000 people in Trinidad and Tobago have lost their jobs since 2015, with close to 6,000 being sent home when the Petrotrin refinery closed down on November 30, 2018.
Well-known economist Dr Roger Hosein found these figures worrying for our economic future.
In an interview he did some time ago, Hosein said, “On a year-on-year basis, total employment fell by 900 persons, while the labour force contracted by 8,500 persons. This resulted in a decline in the labour force participation rate to 58.7 per cent over the first half of 2018 compared with 59.7 per cent during the corresponding period of 2017. The continued decline in the labour force participation rate is a source of concern since this has implications for future economic prospects.”
Hosein believed that the loss of 40 per cent of the labour force in the petroleum sector was the most worrying development of the labour market data trends. He said employment of petroleum and gas sector workers collapsed from 21,300 in 2014 to 12,600 in June 2018.
He said these jobs were highly competitive, the loss of such a staggering percentage of oil and gas workers to Guyana, Suriname or elsewhere would take time to be rebuilt.
Remember in 2018 Dr Rowley said there was no intention to close the Petrotrin Refinery. Then bam! Months later, the refinery was closed and nearly 6,000 workers thrown on the breadline. This affected the workers and their immediate families which amounted to nearly 50,000 persons. What is interesting is that nowhere in the PNM 2015 was such an important measure ever stated and yet Espinet was able to boast that all the Petrotrin workers will be retrenched……. “all, all, all”.
Since early 2018 foreign companies began pulling out of this country throwing more workers on the breadline, yet Baptiste-Primus remained silent in her ivory tower by the Port-of-Spain Waterfront.
The PNM, in its 2015 Manifesto made all sorts of promises.
Have a look at the promises:
To rescue our country from the despotic anti-labour UNC-led regime, we need all hands on deck, sharing a common purpose and vision, and we thus view this election as a timely juncture in our nation’s history to deepen and strengthen our relationship with Labour and to actively involve Labour in the decision-making process.
(Remember the PP went into the office with Errol Mc Leod, Rudy Indarsingh, and David Abdullah, so calling the PP anti-labour was a joke. Mc Leod and Indarsingh lasted the full term, but Abdullah did not last as long as the Red House fire).
2015 PNM Manifesto promises
In a mere two pages of an eight-page document, he PNM specifically pledged to give special emphasis to the following objectives:
• Encouraging proper industrial relations practices and effective democratic Trade Unionism. (Not done)
• Ensuring that the population is up to date and informed of International labour engagement trends, as a consequence of globalization and the need for Employers and Industry to become more flexible and competitive. (Not done)
• Providing a clear Framework of the Rights and Responsibilities in the Workplace. (Not done)
• Protecting the Health and Safety of workers, which will require amendments to the OSHA to deal with the environmental aspects of occupational health and safety. (Not done)
• Promoting sustainable economic growth. (Not done). (It is informative to note that for five consecutive years the country has experienced negative growth)
• A comprehensive and immediate review, in consultation with the Trade Union Movement, of all Labour Legislation, such as the Industrial Relations Act, Retrenchment & Separation Benefits Act. (Not done)
• Simplification of the Recognition Process for Trade Unions. (Not done)
• Timely Settlement of all outstanding public sector wage and salary negotiations. (Partially achieved)
• Dialogue, regular consultation and interaction with the Labour Movement on all areas of policy, plans, projects and programmes affecting the rights and interest of workers and Labour generally. (Not done)
• Ensuring meaningful and active representation by Labour in the decision-making process at all levels, in all important Government Committees, State Boards, Task Forces and the like. (Not done)
• Formulating and implementing a Policy on Migrant Workers. (Not done)
• Timely revision of Minimum Wage Rates, consistent with the Cost of Living. (Not done)
• Inclusion of Labour in the Fifth Schedule of the Tobago House of Assembly Act, to give responsibility for industrial relations and labour matters in Tobago to the THA. (Not done)
• Review and reform the use of Contract Labour in all sectors. (Not done)
• Review the Appointment Process for Judges to the Industrial Court to provide for greater security of tenure. (Not done)
• Facilitate Tripartite Engagement between Government, Labour and the Employer, to foster and develop a peaceful, competitive and productive Industrial Relations climate. (Not done)
There was no review of the appointment process for judges at the Industrial Court. The situation has gotten worse as there are some 31 vacancies there. There is also no policy on migrant workers. Thousands of foreigners are in this country, mostly Venezuelans who have been exploited by those who hire them. A lot of them work for wages between $8-$10 a day. The Venezuelans are being exploited because the Ministry of Labour has taken a back-seat approach.
The Ministry of Labour really cannot boast of settling any outstanding negotiations. Look at the month of June alone. Protests galore from the health sector over outstanding wages. A big march is being planned for July 1. Just last week, Port workers embarked on money owed to them since 2014, yet no one has heard from the Minister of Labour. Public servants are beginning to make noise and who knows who else would join.
The COVID-19 Pandemic brought its challenges. Very early Baptiste-Primus jumped out and spoke about pandemic leave. But that was quickly shut down by the Prime Minister. Then she put her foot in her mouth and announced in June that OJTs would get a ten per cent increase in their wages when that was already given since January 2020.
But in her Labour Day message, all she talked about was consultation with stakeholders on various pieces of legislation. After five years on the job, she cannot produce one piece of legislation which her Ministry has passed in the Parliament on behalf of Labour.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel…. Baptiste-Primus says she is bowing out of politics at the end of this term. What would be the PNM’s manifesto promises on Labour in 2020? And will they execute them this time around if they are returned to office?