[ARANGUEZ, 17 June 2022] — It is undeniable that the last two years have tested our collective strength as a nation. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are still ongoing and have become further compounded as we now grapple with rising inflation, disrupted supply chains, the threat of armed conflict, forced displacement and accelerated climate change. 

Reports from the International Labour Organization (ILO) show that recovery for 2022 and onwards will not be a smooth process, particularly in developing countries. It is important that we acknowledge these realities, not to be dystopian, but rather, as a stimulus to start reflecting within, and accept the urgent need for looking past our political, historical and ideological differences towards a collaborative approach to recovery and building a resilient society. 

This is not humanity's first encounter with multiple crises, and it certainly will not be our last. What has always aided us in surviving even the darkest hour is the strength of community guided by purposeful leadership. Now more than ever, we need to rely on the strength of each other for effective recovery. Our social dialogue systems are integral to this effort and therefore, they need to be re-built as robust spaces for critical conversations and deliberate action. For example, we recognize there is a need for ongoing social dialogue on the evolving nature of work. We need to discuss and assess the shifts that are happening and develop appropriate policy frameworks. We also need to have conversations on workers' health and well-being. Finally, we need to assess what are the existing pool of skills in our society, whether it meets the demand today and for the future, and how best we can enable our young people to transition into the labour market.  

The fact is, we simply cannot realise positive change in society if our actions remain rooted in silos, especially where we have seen evidence of positional bargaining and an apparent unwillingness for parties on either side of the divide to treat in a meaningful way, the social and economic realities which confront us. As a country and a society, we cannot afford to run the risk of not changing and transforming the way we show up in these conversations. Effective change begins with acceptance. A genuine acceptance of our realities, our issues and challenges.   

In this regard, the ECA continues to champion the call for greater cooperation, collaboration, and commitment, and to act with urgency towards addressing the challenges we face. In an ever-evolving and continually disruptive global space, we need to develop capacities that will enable us to ride the waves of change.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we nurture and develop systems of learning which places emphasis on continuous development and the intrinsic need for lifelong education, relative to the current and future needs of our reality. This is a core element of resilience. When we educate our people and invest in lifelong learning, we not only set ourselves and our future generations on the path to success, but we also create resilient citizens in the process; individuals capable of adapting to change and turning challenge into opportunity.  

This must be supported by robust social systems. The pandemic taught us that without access to proper safety nets and resources we risk the chance of regressing, rather than advancing. Having the right policies that support recovery and encourage resiliency, with available access to support for those most in need at the individual or enterprise level, can help to mitigate this risk. 

The Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) provide a framework and roadmap for taking action to address poverty, inequality, access to quality education, decent work and full employment, among other targets. Admittedly, the pandemic has slowed or regressed many of the gains made towards achieving the SDGs, but the imperative remains. If we are to successfully thrive in the world of tomorrow, cooperation and collaboration must take precedence over all else. As we enter another busy hurricane season, we are also reminded that the ongoing threat of climate change requires our urgent and immediate attention. As an island state we cannot afford to be passive about the need to explore the transition towards more sustainable and cost-effective models of energy consumption. 

Finally, we encourage social partners to recognise the value of creating social and economic systems where citizens can access decent jobs and an enabling environment where businesses, especially micro, small and medium businesses (MSMEs) can innovate, grow, and ultimately, contribute to a better Trinidad and Tobago. Now is the time to engage in dialogue, at all levels, to determine what kind of future we would like to build and the type of legacy we wish to leave for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.  

On this Labour Day, we celebrate our collective strength, our tenacity for survival and the hope for a better future. We wish the Labour Movement and citizens of Trinidad and Tobago a HAPPY LABOUR DAY!