PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Government has agreed to put a moratorium on retrenchment in the public sector until the end of the year.
This agreement was reached on Wednesday by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley following a three-hour long meeting with the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), led by Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union president general Ancel Roget at the Office of the Prime Minister.
Among the trade unions attending the marathon talks with the PM were leaders of the Communications Workers’ Union, National Union of Government and Federated Workers and the Public Services Association.
Addressing the media following the meeting, Roget said the unions had initially left the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) because they were not satisfied with the way “mass retrenchments” were taking place in the private and public sectors within the last two years.
Roget said the most pressing issue that was discussed was that “we should have a moratorium on retrenchment if we should return to NTAC. The Prime Minister agreed that his Government will place a moratorium on all retrenchment until December 31 of this year.”
Roget said the moratorium applies to “everything under the Government’s control,” as he did not want anyone to have a Christmas knowing that their jobs were hanging over the heads.
He said following December 31, any “new retrenchment” that is contemplated will be brought to the level of NTAC for discussions.
“It’s not that NTAC will make the decisions, but it will be brought before NTAC to give at least the tripartite body, of which labour is a part, an opportunity to make some input and to point the way forward in the absence what they perhaps did not consider before.”
If Government should break their promise, Roget said it would be “war and all hell will break loose.”
Asked if the PM’s agreement was genuine or this was just done to appease the unions on the eve of the 2018 budget, Roget said, “We who put that on the table, we had an issue with that because we were saying that while we were discussing at the level of NTAC they were sending people home, which we have a serious problem with.”
Another issue that was brought to the fore, Roget said, was the amendment of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefit Act and the Company’s Act, which will now be brought urgently to the Parliament agenda.
Roget also wants the unions to be more accessible to the Recognition and Certification Board. This will allow workers in the country to get representation by unions, he said.
He said the unions will also now work in harmony to make NTAC more meaningful and to have a clear mandate.
He said another problem the unions were having was that they were unable to meet line ministers.
“And in some instances the discussions were not meaningful. Their commitment just was not there. Therefore, we got a commitment from the Prime Minister and information that those ministers were communicated to and instructed that they should meet with the labour movement,” Roget said.
Roget said he would see how this will play out going forward. He said their discussions were not hinged on outstanding arrears but said it was “disrespectful” to owe workers money and not talk about it. The issue of Petrotrin was not discussed, Roget said.