Thursday, February 22, 2018

Heading off pending labour unrest crisis

Express editorial logo388

Mark Fraser

 The curtain is evidently being raised on a season of heightened labour militancy. Media reports tell of industrial relations unrest in the government service, and in related State-owned operations and enterprises.

Friday protest parades outside the Parliament have included workers from Hilton Trinidad. Prime-time coverage is thereby guaranteed for demonstrations by displaced workers at that State-owned hotel and conference centre, with an international brand franchise, and with management to suit.

Other now-familiar protest appearances include those by workers from State majority-owned TSTT. Again, concern rose high as workers in the economically strategic setting of the port of Port of Spain stopped work.

No work disruption quite compares, however, to that engineered at the Board of Inland Revenue. The agency that organises and administers discharge of financial obligations to the State by individuals and businesses appeared suddenly crippled, as employees chose picketing ahead of performance.

Such protests work to put the public in general and employers in particular on notice. Peace and quiet in industrial relations are actually under threat.

Moreover, it appears that, over and above pay-rise grouses, workplace conditions will increasingly be cited as causes for disruptions of service and productivity. In an ever-increasing number of government offices, occupational health and safety standards should now be recognised as priority areas for correction as necessary, in keeping with legislated requirements. 

Shutdowns led by the Public Services Association (PSA), in protest against workplace environmental conditions, have caused the painful public inconvenience of service denials at the Licensing Office and at the Board of Inland Revenue. It only gets worse.

A mood favouring first-strike aggression moved the PSA to hold a demonstration against the Integrity Commission. The PSA grouse? That the Commission had produced a promotional video depicting public servants in an unfavourable light.

The Integrity Commission was caused to apologise to the PSA, and to the public servants it presumably offended, thus affirming the big-stick power wielded by the PSA.

More government offices will likely be targeted for industrial action on predictable, and other, grounds. The public should accordingly expect unrest, finding a way to give effect to a militant agenda, on one ground or another. 

To rule out at least one easily predictable ground, public and private employers should actively ensure that workplaces meet legislated standards for health and safety. Nothing offers itself as an alternative to the provision, as always, of constructive engagement of the respective labour organisations.

Ultimately, no guarantees are available against protests, work stoppages and worse. But it is prudent for employers, in the public and private sectors, to move decisively to correct whatever constitutes adverse, and legally intolerable, workplace conditions.