INDUSTRIAL Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix says the court is committed to ensuring a marked improvement in the delivery of justice in an industrial relations climate where the number of disputes filed is increasing annually.
Speaking yesterday at the opening of the Law Term for the Industrial Court, located at St Vincent Street in Port of Spain, Thomas-Felix revealed that in 2009 there were 692 disputes filed. The figure increased to 781 in 2010, 778 in 2011 and for this year, so far, 566 disputes have already been filed.
"These figures show a steady increase of unresolved disputes between unions and employers and it also speaks to the increasing volatility of the industrial relations climate in this country," Thomas-Felix said.
"Trinidad and Tobago's economy has, for a long time, been regarded as the main engine of the Caricom region. It has expanded significantly over the past two decades, driving business and investment in the region, but the engine appears to be losing steam."
She said a look at the reported statistics reveal that 553 workers were retrenched in 2007, 1,421 in 2008, 2,125 in 2009, 638 in 2010 and 1,124 in 2011.
"The statistics show the manufacturing sector with the highest number of reported retrenchments. There is no doubt that an unhealthy labour climate can prove disastrous for this country in these times of economic uncertainty. Unions and employers have a crucial role to play in maintaining social stability in these times of recession and recovery. The need for social dialogue and a conciliatory approach towards problem solving between parties on both sides of the table is even more pertinent now than before."
Thomas-Felix also suggested that affected parties (unions and employers) re-examine the timeline for negotiation of new collective agreements. She said it has become the norm for negotiations and the registration of new collective agreements to take place some years after the period of review.
"The delay usually frustrates workers and leads to industrial action. Negotiations and the signing of collective agreements should be contemporaneous to the period in review and a greater effort should be made by employers and unions in this regard."
Thomas-Felix said, having only recently been appointed as president of the court, she has been engaged in identifying weaknesses within the administrative system, in measuring the rate of delivery of judgements and in finding solutions that can enable the court to function as a modern, professional organisation.
Among the needs she identified is the continuous training of members of the court (judges) and supporting staff.
She said the issue of physical space for the court also continues to be a challenge.