Trade unions and their members marching and rallying to express concerns about retrenchment and stalled salary negotiations among other issues, was an intervention to improve their economic situation said National Trade Unions Centre president general Michael Annisette.
“We have a sacred responsibility to intervene in what is happening in Trinidad and Tobago. This march is about an intervention and not about mashing up Port of Spain,” he said.
Prior to the start of yesterday afternoon’s march through the streets of Port of Spain, workers and their unions assembled under the banners of the National Trade Union Centre, Joint Trade Union Movement and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non Governmental Organisations on the Brian Lara Promenade.
There union leaders made calls for the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act to better addressed their needs. One such call came from Ida LeBlanc of the National Union of Domestic Employees who said that since 1982 the union has been calling for recognition of domestic employees and low income workers as they have no redress to the Industrial Court or the Ministry of Labour.
“Governments come. Government go. It is the same thing. We want recognition for domestic workers now,” she said.
In his remarks, Nirvan Maharaj of the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union said, “The current issue in this country is not about race or ethnicity. It is a class issue. It is about those who have and those who do not have.”
He said workers must be prepared to take back the country from the politicians and party financiers on both sides of the political divide who control 90 percent of the resources.
Kyrla Thomas of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association in her remarks said that teachers have been observing a number of things and when maxi taxi drivers are not paid to take students and teachers to outlying places like Blanchisseuse and Matelot, then there will be no classes. Noting that schools reopen on September 4, she said, “Teachers will not allow any student to sit in any harmful place.”
Idi Stuart of the nurses association said the issue of class was being felt in the health sector. Student nurses, he said, have had their $800 stipend cut while consultants were well compensated for an hour or two of work.
Calling on the Minister of Education and the Minister of Health to reinstate the students stipend immediately, he said, “ because the nurses will be standing up for the students.”
On the working conditions nurses were experiencing, he said, “We are short-staffed. They have sent home all the Caricom nurses who had come to supplement the shortage we were already experiencing. They have cut overtime.”
He continued, “We have reached a point where we are fed up. We cannot give patients water to take medication. We have no linen, no drugs.”
In his comments Roland Sutherland of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union said that workers of the National Maintenance Training and Security Company (MTS) are still receiving 2010 salaries even though the union reluctantly accepted a 10 percent increase in their salaries in September 2016 for the period 2012 to 2016.
Government has refused to sign off on the agreement, he said, “and it appears that in MTS there is a wage freeze.”
He said, “When we had discussions with the minister who attempted to get it signed, they moved him. Now we are faced with the big bad wolf, the Prime Minister.”