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Desperately seeking employment

Ex-worker’s difficult life after retrenchment
Published: 
Sunday, April 22, 2018

Although data from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) shows a relatively low unemployment rate, those figures don’t tell the whole story about people who have lost their jobs since the start of T&T’s economic downturn and their struggle to find employment.

Since early 2016, when the closure of the ArcelorMittal steel plant left more than 600 workers unemployed, there have been hundreds of job losses across the country.

The latest occurred just last week when Tubecity IMS Trinidad Ltd, a plant located on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, filed for voluntary liquidation, putting the jobs of 257 workers at risk.

Last August, the Tourism Development Company (TDC) ceased operations and 111 workers were served with retrenchment notices.

This development came just months after government announced plans to dissolve the state-run agency and replace it with two separate entities.

Among those affected by the TDC closure is a former procurement officer who had been employed with the agency for almost ten years. He was handed his retrenchment letter on September 28 last year and has had no success in finding another job.

The married father of two, who did not want to be identified out of fear that it might further complicate his already difficult job hunt, said he knows of several former colleagues who also haven’t been able to find employment since.

He said his wife is unemployed and it has been a struggle to make ends meet. One of his children is 25 years and attending the University of the West Indies (UWI), while the other is in secondary school.

“I am the only bread winner in the home and it’s getting more difficult by the day. I have mouths to feed. We’re all skilled and educated people who were at the TDC and some of us are so desperate now we’re applying for jobs as drivers and messengers,” he said.

He received a gratuity payment of roughly $70,000 which has been keeping food on the table for the last seven months but which will soon run out.

“I have a mortgage to pay and soon the bank will be coming for me. My family and I might be on the streets soon. In a few months, most of that money will be used up and I really need to have another job by then,” he said.

The former TDC staffer thinks his job search has been unsuccessful because he is not politically connected.

“I have sent out hundreds of job applications to state agencies and the private sector and no positive reply as yet,” he said, adding that he knows of dozens of other former TDC employees who are facing similar desperate circumstances.

“There was a pregnant woman from Maracas who lost her baby after being served a retrenchment notice by the TDC last year,” he said.

“Another guy recently died from depression as he could not get a job. There is yet another one who on suicide watch right now. This is really hurting us badly. We don’t know what else to do.”

The man said he tries to keep positive and is hoping his situation will improve soon

“What else I can do but have hope that things will get better,” he said.

ECA: Employers exercising restraint

The Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA), offering a perspective on unemployment and how employers should handle it, said in a statement: “Given, the ECA’s experience and interaction with its membership, it is apparent that employers have been exercising a level of restraint in laying off or retrenching employees en masse despite the prevailing economic difficulties. These actions are consistent with the ECA’s past positions and continued guidance that retrenchment should be used as a last resort after other acceptable business sustainability measures have been considered.”

It said there have been cases where employers went beyond the call of duty just to pay salaries.

“In fact, a number of employers agonise about having to reduce the work week due to declining demands for their services or products or their inability to pay salaries on time,” the ECA said.

“We are aware of only one employer who was forced to retrench his full team—with severance pay—due only to his inability to continue paying salaries having exhausted his personal funds in paying staff.

“This situation was occasioned by the non-payment of invoices by his major client for several months with no likelihood of imminent settlement.”

The group is urging employers to follow good industrial relations practice when dismissing employees:

• Be sure that retrenchment is really necessary and can be justified.
• Be sure employees are not being dismissed under the guise of retrenchment.
• If employers must retrench, consider whether their intended modus orperandi is in concert with the requirements of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act (RSBA).
• Put things in place to ensure Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) counsellors are available to affected workers and even those who will be staying on in the company.
• Examine the terms and conditions of employment agreed with individual employees and trade unions with respect to implementation of lay-offs and retrenchment.
• Be sure to act in accordance with those terms and conditions and the provisions of the RSBA.

The ECA said organisational restructuring is a normal part of business operations in any effectively functioning economy.

“In this regard, the ECA will continue to support, when necessary, the right of employers to restructure their business operations and where redundancies or surplus labour is evident, institute a voluntary separation or retrenchment programme, as a legitimate course of action available, once such an exercise is conducted within the remit of existing legislation, collective labour agreements and established industrial relations practices.”

CSO: Decrease in unemployment

T&T’s overall unemployment rate decreased from four per cent in the third quarter of 2016, to 3.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the Central Statistical Office Labour Force Bulletin in the last quarter of 2017.

“This decrease is not uncommon for this period and it is mainly due to seasonality changes,” said the CSO of the information which was based on data collected via a population survey.

Analysis of fourth quarter 2016 data in terms of industries showed major decreases in jobs in transport, storage and communication which stood at 7,200 or 15 per cent. In other manufacturing, which excluded sugar and oil, the figure was 6,400 or 12 per cent, while wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels accounted for 5,400 or 4.6 per cent and construction, 4,700 or 4.8 per cent.

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