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Saturday, June 17, 2017

When Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley recently confessed dissatisfaction with the Finance Ministry’s public outreach on the property tax, he’d said it didn’t mean “anyone” would be fired “tomorrow.”

“Anyone” didn’t immediately come to mind. Until Monday, after Minister in the PM’s Office - Stuart Young - began acting as Finance Minister.

However, Finance Minister Colm Imbert still has a job. Government said he was overseas, but couldn’t explain why Rowley, who’d acted for Imbert once last year, hadn’t done so again.

For the Opposition, shifts, particularly in Cabinet, are par for the current economic course. So it was on Wednesday, that UNC MP Rudy Indarsingh loaned his political perspective to the latest labour developments as he chatted prior to Parliament.

He employed a familiar line: “... Under this Government, workers are an endangered species,” Indarsingh mused.

“Wha’ make you say dat?” PNM MP Randall Mitchell queried as Indarsingh pointed to Atlantic LNG’s Voluntary Separation of Employment offer.

Mitchell, noting ALNG was a private company, volunteered colloquial interpretation of what occurred.

“(They) Buss they throat...” he observed.

“... On the eve of Labour Day! That’s the way you dealing with workers?” Indarsingh added (not quite rhetorically).

Monday’s Labour Day anniversary will also be sharp reminder of the state of the economic and industrial relations/labour landscapes. The fortunes of each, inextricably - now negatively - intertwined.

Consequently, Industrial Court business has been brisk.

Public sector cuts and contract non-renewals have extended among approximately Government 15 divisions. Central Statistical’s (CSO’s) latest report - on 2016 third quarter - cited highest public sector job losses then.

Similar records are accruing private sector-wise, from industrial, manufacturing and commercial to retail.

Some companies, even several in the “black,” have utilised the cutback climate to restructure with resultant cuts. For those “in the red,” review is requisite.

In both sectors, companies undertaking poorly implemented transitions where the basis is unsound, ultimately require court assistance sustaining “hits” to their public profile.

Others, under cover of numbers less than five - which don’t require reporting to the Labour Ministry - escape sanction.

Job loss figures from Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus climbed from 846 in February 2016 to approximately 2,500, she claimed Thursday, “... Excluding cuts under five.”

Cognisant of the climate, Government is expediting labour law revision prioritising Industrial Relations and Retrenchment and Severance Benefit legislation. Employers have sought more time to examine proposed law mandating that workers must enjoy basic terms of employment.

However, Cabinet has received reports on reducing contract dependency in the public sector and state enterprise/private sectors, Baptiste-Primus added.

“Contract labour has ballooned. But once work is of continuous nature, there’s need for permanent employment rather than contract. It may not necessarily mean more jobs, but jobs will be of permanent nature. For example, we need to de-suppress existing permanent public sector posts.”

UNC’s Indarsingh however, maintains approximately 25,000 jobs have been lost.

“We traced reports in the public domain and liaised with unions; even Central Bank’s report cites more than 8,000 jobs lost.”

“Recession and so-called moves to cut ‘waste/corruption’ could mask an unscrupulous government’s political agenda against perceived opponents. Likewise, it could be exploited by other companies to target some for implausible reasons,” he added.

However, Government’s increasing reassessments have alerted the public to be wary of the words “review,” “restructure,” “revise,” “audit” and “streamline.”

In mainstay energy sectors, recent arrival of the Petrotrin review report and Gas Master Plan confirms Government’s determination to re-pivot the sector.

It remains to be seen what effects will arise from the Petrotrin recommendations, including dividing the company into three; as well as from OWTU jefe Ancel Roget’s view that funding/foreign assistance may be needed for repairs and his belief about areas of “over-staffing.”

Consequences are also expected from the Welch health sector report and the Port Authority/ferry service review Government will soon pursue.

With 580,000 workers (Labour’s May figure) among T&T’s million-plus population, the embattled economy’s also supporting 30,200 foreigners who’ve been granted permanent residence, some 15,042 illegals, including 1,015 Venezuelans (last week’s National Security figures), plus over 600 refugees (Thursday’s UN statistics).

The overall challenging landscape has cemented unity for Monday’s Labour Day platform from among formerly fragmented labour sectors - Natuc, JTUM - split almost five years.

“Expect warning ‘shots’ across all bows. We aim to be the people’s voices at this difficult time,” OWTU’s Ozzie Warwick added.

Government has a year to undertake any further hard decisions. PNM planners note 2018 internal/leadership elections, 2019 Local Government polls, then THA and general elections. They said PNM’s recent Family Day garnered “surprisingly good” turnout despite Government’s unpopular decisions, stalled infrastructural/housing projects and T&T’s trying times.

Upcoming Labour Day messages may reflect the rest of public sentiment. In Senate on Tuesday, asked whether she was ready for Monday, Baptiste-Primus declared, “I am ready for anything...”


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