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Sunday 21 July 2019
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Time for unions to refocus

While there was undoubtedly much to celebrate and consider in last week’s day-long labour workshop at Cipriani Labour College, there was also a lot for local union leaders to consider if they are to serve their memberships effectively.

Trade unions face an era of workplace evolution. Contract work is normal, short-term engagements by migratory professionals are commonplace as institutional positions within an organisation play a diminished role in the corporate structure.

Artificial intelligence is emerging as a solution to lower level white collar jobs in customer service and order fulfilment and there’s a steady push to automate the routine and reward the inventive and exceptional.

Nothing in TT society, from our education system to our legacy businesses, is entirely ready for the groundswell of changes that have begun to impact modern society.

Finland is currently testing a universal basic income strategy, which moves beyond welfare to consider the reality of a world in which there is far less meaningful work for the underqualified.

There is much, in the 21st century, for trade unions to be thinking about when they consider the future of the workers they represent.

So when a judge of the Industrial Court feels it necessary for local trade unions to upgrade their game, perhaps it’s also time for those unions to realise that it’s time to step up in a robust way.

Justice Gregory Rousseau warned unions that they had lapsed significantly by not focusing their efforts on amending legislation relating to severance compensation which had, most notoriously, allowed Arcelor Mittal to close up shop at Point Lisas and leave without paying their workers severance.

“To this day, the trade union movement is doing nothing about this to make it a front-burner issue,” Rousseau said.

Trade unionist Akins Vidale warned his colleagues at the conference that young people weren’t interested in trade unions nor did they understand their role.

“Someone else will do it for us,” he warned. “Someone else will teach our children that trade unions are a waste of time.”

Trade unions would also do well to consider a new role for themselves in the rapidly evolving relationship between capital and labour.

If unionists are going to challenge businesses on matters they consider to be unfair, they must also be able to challenge their members to adapt to new circumstances that will challenge their skills and adaptability.

Economic circumstances are growing ever more transparent; so threats to down tools when the money simply isn’t available simply don’t help. Threats to rest and reflect take on a different tone when it seems that unionists themselves need to ruminate on the value of their contribution to an economy in flux.

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