Economic growth crucial
Thursday, June 28 2012
IT would be inimical to the long term interests of Trinidad and Tobago (TT) should relations between the People’s Partnership coalition Government and trade unions deteriorate because of the recent withdrawal of the labour oriented Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) from the coalition.
While there are several outstanding salary and wage negotiations issues involving not only the public sector but the private sector as well, it would run counter to the need for TT be on an economic growth path should the strained relations between the People’s Partnership Administration and the MSJ be allowed to escalate.
In the area of salary and wage negotiations the PP Government on one hand has been seemingly intent on the setting of a fixed percentage increase, while the trade unions, of which the MSJ is an outgrowth and derives its support, insist on increases based on what they hold to be the merits of each case.
In TT there are countless households with relatively low savings and investments, or none at all, save in credit unions and even these are all too balanced off by loans. Within all of this is the need for the public and private sectors and labour to follow the advice of the Governor of the Central Bank, Ewart Williams, and seek to balance salaries and wages with productivity. There is the ever present grim reality that overseas importers will turn to countries, for example India and China, where goods are being produced more cheaply.
While it has been the traditional responsibility of owners and management in the private sector as well as in public sector companies and State enterprises to push for greater productivity, nonetheless this has been an increasingly shared responsibility involving far sighted trade unions in developed as well as developing countries.
In turn, workers tend to gain from increased production levels, even more so where there are employee stock option programmes in place, as the rise in productivity enables the unit costs of the goods and services being produced to be brought down making them more competitive in the market place.
Meanwhile, too many persons in developing and near developed countries are only prepared to work four to five hours or less a day while being paid for an eight-hour work day. While it may be argued by some trade unions and unorganised workers that low worker productivity is as a result of low wages, it can also be advanced that low wages are also the result of low productivity.
Inefficient methods of production, noticeably in agriculture, but existing as well in small industries and in such State enterprises as the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) are also contributory factors. In this period of continuing international financial crisis and the recent downward revision by Central Bank Governor, Ewart Williams, of the bank’s growth forecast for 2012 from 1.5 percent to one percent, the need for improved productivity is crucial. Government, the business community and labour should seek to collaborate in these challenging times to protect the economy and ensure it is on a meaningful growth path. A key figure in all of this should be Labour Minister, Errol McLeod, former MSJ political leader and one time president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union. McLeod was one of the few People’s Partnership Government Ministers to retain their portfolios in last Friday’s major Cabinet reshuffle.
There has been no indication since MSJ’s withdrawal from the coalition that McLeod and the MSJ leaders have grown apart. Nevertheless, the question arises as it must, can McLeod be able to keep things on the proverbial even keel or will members of the MSJ and the various trade unions have severe reservations re McLeod?
We hold a decidedly different viewpoint from that expressed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that with the departure of the MSJ, the People’s Partnership coalition is stronger.
Her view would perhaps be correct if the remaining units of the coalition listened seriously to the concerns raised by the MSJ and take appropriate action.