IDA LE BLANC, head of the National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE), was repeatedly applauded when she said many “wicked employers” exist in TT, and urged workers to hold to account their labour leaders who sit on State boards. She addressed a labour conference at Cipriani Labour College, Valsayn, on Wednesday.
Her union represents people working in private homes, largely as domestics but also including men working in handyman, driver, gardener and even bartender jobs.
“All the exploitation people go through...Thirty years they are working with people and then are sent home without anything. There are a lot of wicked employers in Trinidad and Tobago.”
She chided employers who deduct money from domestic workers under the guise of contributions to the National Insurance Board (NIB) but who instead pocket these funds, leaving the employee without any social protection. “When any of them inquire at the NIB, they are fired, with no recompense because they are not considered to be workers.” Of her union’s role, she said, “The biggest complaint is about NIS (National Insurance Scheme).”
Le Blanc alleged that claimants are given a runaround at the NIB. “The NIB has you up and down. ‘Go by the doctor...’. Workers get frustrated and don’t bother with the benefits.” She recalled a man dying of cancer applying for benefits whom the NIB had allegedly told to go and get a particular stamp on his document, and who also had to hire a car to present himself.
“The employee died and never got anything, because he didn’t get the stamp.
“NIB must be more worker-friendly.”
Le Blanc recalled a woman whose finger had been cut off in a sweat shop. “NIB told her to go and get an injury report. She came to the union. Poor people get nothing easy in this country. A lot of people get nothing despite paying national insurance for years.”
She lamented the case of a domestic worker she knew earning just $3,200 per month, who must pay $1,600 rent, $800 in childcare fees and pay other bills. “This is the situation women find themselves in.” A pained Le Blanc lamented that the labour law (Industrial Relations Act) does not recognise domestics as workers. “It creates a loophole for employers to advantage workers.” She said domestics can’t carry employers to the Ministry of Labour.
“We have a Minimum Wage Act that includes overtime, sick leave and vacation, but ask how many of them (domestics) enjoy this?”