The Employers Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ECA) continues to follow recent heightened activity by the Trade Union movement, following Labour Day observances last month which has led to several joint Union exercises across the country. According to reports, the culmination of this exercise is expected to be a mass demonstration on August 4th in resistance to several social and labour related issues, including retrenchment of workers and the perceived inequity in sharing the burden of adjustment required to survive the current socio-economic challenges facing Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).
The Realities of T&T’s Macro Economic Environment
The ECA notes that in January 2017, IMF reports showed optimism for increased economic activity in 2017 and 2018 in emerging markets and developing economies following a lacklustre performance in 2016. This forecast was based on, inter alia, expected firming of oil prices following an agreement among OPEC members and several other major producers to limit supply. However, in their April 2017 World Economic Outlook, this outlook was adjusted to a weaker-than-previously-expected recovery, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, with growth forecasts down 0.5 percentage points to 1.1 percent in 2017 and a 0.2 percentage point reduction to 2.0 percent in 2018. It noted that even though a recovery in commodity prices was expected, domestic fundamentals continue to negatively impact the economic outlook. Even with recently announced restraints by OPEC on production and supply levels, oil prices are not expected to return, if at all, to the levels we previously enjoyed and, correspondingly, government revenue and foreign exchange earnings.
Furthermore, the most recent Global Competitiveness report confirmed a deterioration in the country’s competitiveness ranking.
These are the harsh realities of economic life today, whether we like it or not. As a people, we have the power to make the right choices, notwithstanding the fact that there will always be a few who may choose to ignore to the detriment of employees, companies and the country at large.
Compelling Need for Accountability & Responsible Behaviour
Indeed, signs of tough economic times are facing our nation. While we acknowledge that there are many things that require improvement in our country, we are accountable and need to take and condone actions which are in the best interest of our country. It is therefore the responsibility of every citizen to ensure that decisions made are not only aligned, but driven and informed by responsible action. Actions that recognize the value of the power in the interdependent relationship between the key players in a tripartite process. The country has less money available, and so must spend less and get greater value for each dollar spent. This is especially so for all individual who sit in leadership roles.
While we all have to share the blame, the time has come for those representing social partners to influence behaviours that will help the country move from an underperforming society to one where we can achieve economic viability, continued stability and an enhanced quality of life for us all and for generations yet unborn. This would mean we must demand more accountability and responsibility from our Trade Union representatives, who are calling on workers to “march/protest” on 4th August. A shutdown of any kind, even for a short period, will further affect T&T’s ability to survive and compete on the global stage. Each day of economic earnings that is lost will inevitably have ripple effects including loss of revenue for companies, taxation income for Government, and continued job losses. Are we prepared to allow our colleagues who show up to work on August 4 to bear the burden of continuing operations? And what about the most vulnerable who cannot afford to lose a day’s pay but may be indirectly forced to do so by the actions of others? Are our trade union leaders concerned about that?
Employers not obligated to pay workers
In light of this and the expected demonstration on August 4, citizens are also urged to be mindful that Employers have no obligation under the law to pay workers who may absent themselves from work without authorisation.
According to the Industrial Relations Act (Chapter 88:01): Section 42:5 does not compel any employer, in the absence of agreement to the contrary, to pay or compensate any worker for any time not spent in performance of the duties of his employment. Furthermore Section 62:2 does not impose on an employer any obligation to pay for any services of a worker that are withheld as a result of strike action taken.
The ECA urges the parties involved, more than at any other time, to continue to use dialogue rather than confrontation as the primary vehicle for resolving perceived grievances to reach a mutually beneficial compromise. This is not a time for social partners to adopt postures of standing against but talking with, not having a face-off, but committing to meaningful dialogue. Our main focus at this time should be on successfully navigating the economic struggle at hand. As a result, our actions and proposals should be firmly grounded in this economic reality. The response of the citizenry to a call for a “day of resistance” earlier this year must be commended, which shows that we do possess the capacity to find mature, progressive, 21st century approaches to dealing with our differences.
The ECA is very optimistic that the leadership of the respective Trade Union bodies would rise to the occasion, rethink and re-evaluate the proposed action in the best interest of creating a better Trinidad and Tobago.
Let us remember that there is power in community and power in agreement!
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