PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Labour leaders were gearing for a possible nationwide strike after talks with Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar ended on Tuesday evening without a resolution on the five per cent wage cap for public workers in Trinidad and Tobago.
While Prime Minister Persad Bissessar was informing reporters that she believed the three-hour discussions had possibly averted the nationwide strike, the President General of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Ancel Roget said that the government had missed an opportunity to bring about a settlement to the issue.
“I am calling on all the workers here this evening, through the lack of respect and certainly through the lack of embracing the opportunity that was once again presented by the labour movement to resolve this issue that was disregarded.
“What in fact has happened is that the Prime Minister and her government have declared war on the workers of Trinidad and Tobago,” said Roget, who led the 19 trade union leaders into the talks with the Prime Minister and her delegation.
The unions have been warning that the five per cent cap is a hindrance to the free collective bargaining process and Prime Minister Persad Bissessar told reporters that she had made it clear during the meeting that her administration had never placed a cap on the negotiations.
“I indicated to them that I was prepared to make a public statement there is no five per cent cap, that the unions should go back to the bargaining table with the management of the respective employers and negotiate their wage issues within the framework of the ability of the individual companies to pay,” she said.
“I repeated to theme there is no five per cent cap, they should go back to the bargaining table and start from fresh because they were of the view that the process of bargaining had been contaminated in some way by this five per cent cap…and therefore let us start …with a clean slate.
“Start from zero and negotiate, the slate is clean, you start from zero and negotiate upwards, there is no five per cent cap,” she added.
But she later acknowledged that “the five per cent is not resolved” noting that at the end of the meeting “we went back to square one.
“They asked me about the five per cent cap and at that point in the meeting they wanted me to actually negotiate and I was not and I said I cannot negotiate and you will have to negotiate with your employers.
“I was placed in a position where I was being asked to declare that there is a removal of the five per cent cap and at that point I felt that it was in a position that I would now be negotiating what should be dealt with by the various employers and the CPO (Chief Public Officer) and I could not aced to that request.
She said she reiterated to the trade union leaders that there is no five per cent cap and urged them to return to the bargaining table.
“If it were I was to say that I have removed the five per cent cap then what would happen they would go to the bargaining table starting at five per cent and that I would have entered into negotiations with them and that’s where we agreed to disagree and I suggested to them that we terminate the meeting because we were not going further.”
She said she informed the labour leaders that her administration would give consideration to the other “serious matters we raised and if necessary we will meet again”.
But Roget told workers that the government was again trying to hoodwink the population on the issue.
“When they tell you, you have free and fair collective bargaining and we going to start off from zero, all of those state boards would tell you that they could only afford five per cent.
“We are not stupid …and we are not prepared to accept that nonsense,” he added.
Prior to the talks on Tuesday, the private sector groups were urging conciliation.
The Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) said it was hoping for a resolution and that no ultimatum would be issued during the talks.
Executive Director of the Employers Consultative Federation (ECA), Linda Besson, said there is need for dialogue and hoped that both parties could examine the possibility of a third party to mediate.
The unions have warned that no notice would be given when the nationwide strike would begin, saying “it would come like a thief in the night”.
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