Labour Relations in Trinidad and Tobago

In the 1960’s trade union membership was more than twice as much as it is now and industrial relations was more about power relations; hence, the prevalence of adversarial relationships between employers and employees.

The industrial relations climate in 2013 remained dormant but was less turbulent than in 2012. A series of wage agreements in key sectors such as finance, services, manufacturing and petroleum allowed for some stability in labour relations.

Various public and private sector institutions announced settlements over the first half of 2013 and adjustments to previous agreements were also made. However, some outstanding and upcoming negotiations include companies in the finance, construction and public service sectors.

In the absence of official labour market statistics from the Central Statistical Office (CSO), supplemental information on retrenchment notices provided some gauge on the labour market. Supplementary and provisional data from the Ministry of Labour on retrenchment notices showed an increase over the first ten months of 2013 when compared with the corresponding period one year ago. During the period January – October 2013, retrenchment notices increased to 729 notices from 626 notices filed in the same period of the previous year. These notices mostly originated in the finance, insurance and real estate (25%), distribution (13%) and petroleum (13%) industries.

Trade Unions do have a strong presence in the country as with all countries with a growing economy. We have seen increasingly forceful moves by trade unions over the past few years to influence national policies and issues. The approach by the trade union leaders appeared at times to be confrontational rather than conciliatory.

With the increasing frequency of strikes and other industrial action, there is urgent need for a change in the manner in which industrial relations is conducted. For instance, a system based on seniority is often used to decide which employees are laid off when there isn’t enough work. The seniority system is not effective as we live in an era of innovation. The productivity of employees is the key factor and seniority has to be demoted as a proxy for merit. Our industrial relations system needs a modernized legal framework which is relevant to changes in working life, modern human resources management practices and technological advancement which supports economic stability and measured growth.

The key stakeholders must re-examine their contributions to the current state of affairs and resolve to bring about the necessary transformation to survive and prosper in the long-term. A modernised and effective trade union can offer members assistance in being useful workers, and it can develop a method for removing unproductive members from its membership. One of the biggest challenges to management and union partnerships has been the question - How are union members treated, relative to one another?

An understanding of the global economy and the imperative for small economies – such as the Trinidad and Tobago’s – is required and all social partners must work together, replacing confrontation with co-operation, trust and collaboration. This can only be accomplished if there are suitable multipartite mechanisms established by the Government and adhered to by all stakeholders. Whereby meaningful consultation leads to consensus on common objectives and the strategies by which these can be achieved.

Today, great strides have been made to encourage tripartism, social dialogue, labour management co-operation and improved communication.
Unions can provide valuable services that increase economic activity and social well-being, however. When it comes to occupational health and safety standards, neither the government nor a laissez-faire economic system have the means or the incentives to assure optimal production and welfare. Unions can fill this gap and can increase output and safety  .

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 3, 2004 as amended in 2006 centres around the safety, health and welfare of persons at work. The objective of the amendment is to ensure the promotion of high safety and health standard benefits both for the employers and employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency is the enforcing body. As of August 2007 the Occupational Safety and Health Agency commenced its general operations placing emphasis in the areas of Oil and Gas, Ports, Chemical and Petrochemical Industry, General Manufacturing Construction and Quarries, Agriculture and Public Services, and Occupational Health.
 
Existing bodies, such as OSHA give way to potential investors. Ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago, according to Doing Business 2014 ranks T&T at 66 out of 189 economies , a move up from 69 out of 185 economies in 2013 . Businesses in T&T enjoy highly competitive operating costs, making the country an emerging market for foreign investors. The strength of the nation’s energy industry allows it to boast some of the lowest energy costs in the world.  The government of T&T encourages foreign direct investment in almost all sectors with specific focus on the non-energy targeted sectors. Generally, there are no restrictions or disincentives to investment. Foreign ownership of Companies is permitted and welcomed under the Foreign Investment Act (1990).