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Wages not up to date

Published: 
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Concern over incomplete negotiations

The trade union movement—traditionally a significant power broker—is not happy with the current economic climate and hopes Finance Minister Colm Imbert addresses their concerns in today’s mid-year budget review.

Michael Annisette, general secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc), said productivity is a serious concern.

“It is an issue that cannot be solved singularly by any committee or the Government, so there must be genuine commitment by the stakeholders,” he said

Outstanding wage negotiations must be dealt with in an urgent manner, he said.

“As I speak to you there are people, academic staff at Cipriani Labour College, who are still operating on 2007 salaries. That is unfair to anybody.

“The Public Services Association (PSA) and Banking Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) represent the workers there. Everything has gone up in recent times and workers are being asked to work on 2007 salaries in 2018. That cannot be fair. If we are talking about equity in terms of the distributional mechanism of the economic pie, those are the things we need to discuss.”

Wage negotiations are still to be settled at the Institute of Marine Affairs and at the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) where the daily rated workers, represented by the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW), are still being paid at 2012 levels.

“We cannot generate economic activity in a sustainable way when you depress wages. Natuc is saying we need to have a new narrative. Germany has high wages and look at how well they are doing,” Annisette said.

Public sector negotiations

PSA president Watson Duke wants Imbert to take public servants into consideration in his economic planning. Current wage negotiations will affect roughly 80,000 public servants.

“The Government needs to pay attention to the way they have taken advantage of us. Public servants are living on the edges of poverty and frustration. Now is the time that we are looking towards the Minster of Finance to give us some type of relief,” he said.

“The CDA, the Betting and Levy Board… they have not had an increase since 2010. They need to be assisted. Also the Agriculture Development Bank. Their last increase was in 2010. In the cases of regional health authorities, there are a number of workers who have not been receiving their allowances. Workers from the Bureau of Standards have also not been receiving their allowances. There is a general sense of uncertainty.”

He said it is not good enough to tell the country and public servants that the country is getting better. Government has to take practical steps.

“We want to hear from him that before the end of this fiscal year, he will settle negotiations from 2010 up to the present time. The time is short but it can be done.”

Mixed signals from Govt

Joseph Remy, president, Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (FITUN) noted that the mid year budget review is taking place in a time of uncertainty.

“There are mixed signals from the Government. In one breath the Minster is alluding to signs of recovery. However, the international agencies are pointing a different picture. There is a contradiction between what the minister is saying and what the international agencies are saying.”

Remy said all these signs points to more pressure on workers and by extension the working class.

“We would hope that the minister does not come with any austerity measures in the mid-year review. The labour movement is calling for the Government to sit with us and discuss as aspects of our labour economic alternative plan that we believe to stimulate economic activity and, as such, save jobs,” he said.

On the issue of collective bargaining, Remy said most of the outstanding wage negotiations are not in the private sector.

“There is TSTT. It is not really government funded, but we still believe all efforts and all directions should be given so that all these negotiations be made current. If workers are operating on current salaries then they maybe in a better position to stem the tide in the rising cost of living,” he said.

ECA: Disparities in job market

The Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) said there has not been a significant improvement in T&T’s economic realities.

“Even with the slight upturn in the energy sector and a short-term positive outlook, the situation on the ground remains difficult as businesses and individual citizens struggle to find foreign exchange to meet their respective needs.

“In this regard, the ECA acknowledges tough decisions will continue to be the order of the day, as we all try to adjust to the uncertainty that characterises the new normal in Trinidad and Tobago,” the group said in a statement.

On the issue of public sector wage negotiations, the ECA said: “This issue must be resolved one way or the other and presents an opportunity for Government and labour to exercise pragmatism in its deliberations. Similar situations would have existed in the past and parties must reflect on what is possible and what is not given the country’s economic realities.

“Finally, the impending amendments to various pieces of important labour legislations, NIS included, will impact the much needed diversification and growth within the business environment, as well as productivity levels as employers and employees await the promised conclusions to these matters.

The obvious uncertainty and protracted timeframe associated with these issues can only add to the current level of scepticism and restraint by employers.”

The ECA is concerned about the disparity between the stock of job vacancies and the skills available to effectively fill those jobs.

“There is a critical gap between the qualifications being pursued by students and the jobs that are of available in their field of study. The recent outcry of unemployed medical doctors is a case in point.

“The national investment in post-secondary school education must be urgently re-examined to ensure a proper return to the nation.

“Programmes offered must be linked to the skills and qualifications needed to satisfy the needs of the T&T job market, now and in the medium term and must be strongly informed through active and realistic partnerships between those that lead the education sector and business.”

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