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A better model for wage talks

February 18 produced a breakthrough in the latest negotiations between Petrotrin and the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union. Without doubt OWTU re-established itself as the premier union in Trinidad and Tobago with its nine per cent victory.

Clearly, the time has come for us to reflect on a model for trade union negotiations in T&T. To what extent should the Government set the pace and ceiling for negotiations? What legal and economic guidelines should the state, through, legislation provide?

For over 30 years as a student of economics, I have been saying that trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago tend to appeal more to mass hysteria and emotions in their negotiations than on economic history and sound economic theory.

On the other hand, governments since independence can be blamed for highhanded strategies in getting their way in negotiations. Although our economic system has been described as a capitalist system, my view has always been that really it is a mixture of a free economy and a centrally propelled economy. All students of modern economics will agree that Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, crashed because of the determination of the state to decide fundamental outcomes in the economy.

Because of limited space, I unfortunately cannot explore my position as I should. Therefore, I have decided to conclude with an outline of some main pillars of my proposed model for negotiations in the public sector:

1. Always keep in mind the ability of the state to sustain the levels of wages and salaries demanded on a long-term basis.

2. Examine very closely the implications for gratuity and recurring pension payments in the long run.

3. Question the extent to which economic growth or decline can be predicted, bearing in mind that in this postmodern age, prediction is no easy task.

4. Seriously calculate or consider how wage and salary increases would generate greater levels of productivity.

We cannot continue addressing our industrial relations imperatives on a Marxist or conflict platform. We should be able to sit down professionally and ethically on the basis of fact and statistics to decide how we should share justly the economic pie. T&T, now – more than ever – needs to pursue its own economic and human resource management theories and perspectives.

Raymond S Hackett

via e-mail

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