Saturday, December 16, 2017

Don’t delay tripartite talks

Trinidad and Tobago has to hope that Prime Minister Keith Rowley is taking the time to prepare himself properly for the meeting now being demanded by combined leaders of trade unions and labour federations.

Increasingly, unionists—no longer divided—have seized the initiative and, taking command of the national stage, have managed to portray the Rowley administration as being on the defensive, and hesitant about confronting their now-rampant alliance.

“It's strange how people can make themselves available when applying for the job, and when they are given the job, they are scarce like hell. That is not productivity at all,” said Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) leader Ancel Roget as he again called for a meeting with the Prime Minister.

It was a pointedly cutting reference to Dr Rowley's appearing to making common cause with labour while campaigning for election, and the hopes for continuing workable relations engendered in the tripartite initiative.

Times like the present period of economic stringency result in jobs and job security being left at risk, or worse. From Finance Minister Colm Imbert has come the assurance that paying public employees each month is his first priority. And last week, amid the build-up for the unions' “Labour Day Two” Port of Spain march, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis reported the administration's creation of some 5,000 jobs.

Yet reports keep surfacing about cuts in numbers of contract workers, leaving hospital nurses stations overworked and understaffed, to cite one latest complaint.

The tripartite exercise fell apart as labour leaders reacted negatively to the threatened shutdown, with job cancellations, but without consultation—and therefore regrettable—of the Tourism Development Company. But Energy Minister Franklin Khan has reported “brutally honest”, if not otherwise successful, talks with the OWTU about the future of Petrotrin.

Again, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus has reported Dr Rowley's willingness to talk with labour leaders, if only to press for their return to the tripartite roundtable.

So what is the Prime Minister waiting for?

As labour leaders' rhetoric and other muscle-flexing tactics move apace, no signs appear of near-term economic improvement. T&T looks forward to a frank and fearless exchange—without the distraction of platform noise-making—that could result in a constructive meeting of the minds among people who count. Among such people, labour leaders comprise a significant sector, and want to be seen as such.

But the same labour leaders must accept their responsibility in ensuring that their union members adhere to the old adage of a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, especially in these trying times when the need for maximum productivity is essential as the economy continues to take a battering.

And idle rhetoric about boycotting certain business groups should be permanently set aside as the only ones who will suffer in such a scenario are the employees of the targeted firms.

With that in mind, we await the Prime Minister confirming a date for the resumption of talks among the tripartite of government, business and labour, where the ultimate goal for each of these crucial players is the good of the country and every one of its citizens.

Without that common agenda, T&T will continue to spin out of control.