Trinidad & Tobago’s Unions Need a Wake Up Call!
In December 2015, ArcelorMittal was challenged in the Industrial Court by the Steel Workers Union of Trinidad and Tobago (SWUTT) for its decision to lay off workers due to severe financial difficulties. Eventually, the union was victorious as the Court declared that: “There is not a scintilla of evidence to justify the layoffs without proper consultation other than disdain for orderly negotiations and good Industrial Relation Practices. Having the right to lay off does not mean it can be applied arbitrarily or unfairly.”
Upon hearing the news of this great legal victory, the affected workers celebrated, jumped and danced in the streets. However this joy turned to mourning the next day as ArcelorMittal fired every single employee indicating that it was no longer economical in the short or long term to carry on business in Trinidad and Tobago; thus leaving it with no choice but to recommend a Creditor’s Voluntary wind up.
While ArcelorMittal may have initially dealt poorly with the situation, the judgment from the Court ended up leaving everyone on the breadline, which surely was not the intent. In a recession, all things must be considered and not just the “letter of the law”. The law kills, but grace gives life. If the judge was a little more lenient towards the company and its position, maybe some sort of workable viable solution could have been found. This solution could have kept the company operating in Trinidad until the steel market improved.
Other companies are in trouble in T&T. A business can only lose money for so long before it has to close its doors. If union leaders cannot begin to understand this simple principle of business and take a hard-line approach in each instance demanding their pound of flesh, this is a scenario that will start repeating itself. The major business groups have recognized that this can happen, since as it stands the Industrial Court is heavily biased towards labour:
Similarly, when a government is operating with a deficit budget, it is like a business that is operating at a loss. But unlike a business, it cannot close its doors, instead what sets in is economic decline, national debt, more taxes and austerity measures. The government is also the largest employer of labour. Therefore, when a government during a recession is faced with an unyielding union, that just wants what it wants without concern for the consequences for the entire nation, it is a cause for alarm.
Mr Duke is of the opinion that all is well in light of the fact that T& T has:
- A stable political system
- A well-educated workforce
- Some financial buffers
- Low, but rising levels of public debt; and
- T & T is not in a crisis
Mr Duke also indicates that T&T is coming up and out of debt. Huh? So why is the World Bank and the IMF here? This is also in contradiction to item [iv] that he just quoted from. His opinion of debts rising is solely related to the payment of public officers. If this was a true reflection of T&T’s debt situation, that would have been a good thing. But this is not the complete picture. He feels that public debt is only what is owed to public servants.
Additionally, he thinks that the public servants are the ones who keep the economy churning. And all this time I thought that it was the Oil and Gas Industries, manufacturers and businesses. Further to this, he is of the opinion that the recession is being ‘manufactured’ or staged. Yeah, like T&T is the world power that sets the prices of oil and gas. All the world is in a mega-plot so that public servants in T&T won’t get their money in one big lump sum. His solution to kick-start the economy is to pay public workers. Their spending sprees may just drive up inflation, and that’s about it.
The reality is that the recession was not manufactured to fleece workers of everything that they own. Tough times are here because our economy was not adequately diversified and the international prices of oil and gas have dropped significantly and there is not going to be a rebound anytime soon. Therefore we all need to be mindful of this fact when we are making our demands.