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Wednesday 17 July 2019
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Measuring rest and reflection

It is an indicator of the importance of the call by unions for a day of rest and reflection on Friday that both sides of the argument put their best spin on the results of the industrial action.

National Security Minister Stuart Young bluntly described the planned national strike a failure. OWTU president general Ancel Roget estimated 65 per cent absenteeism with 90 per cent support for the union’s position on Petrotrin and declared the action a success. Education Minister Anthony Garcia claimed 50 per cent attendance by teachers at primary and secondary schools with full staff present at the ECCE level.

The simple truth is that there were wins and losses across the board for both sides of this dispute, and it isn’t clear that the effort to shut down the country has brought any clarity to the public’s perception of the issue.

Traffic was lighter, likely the result of people choosing not to test the effectiveness of the call by bringing children to school only to bring them back home. And that did happen at many schools, despite the Education Minister’s hopeful spin on the turnout by teachers and students. Many schools are stretched to their teaching resource limits, and it doesn’t take many absences to create a domino effect that effectively shuts down teaching at a school for the day.

Roget is also correct to note the significant level of persuasion brought to bear on Friday’s industrial action at the level of the Cabinet, which saw both ministers and the Prime Minister mixing calls to better judgement with warnings of undefined consequences.

The industrial action was a shot across the bow of a government proceeding with haste to implement their strategy to stanch the flow of money from a haemophiliac Petrotrin. By that evaluation, it was an unquestioned success for the OWTU who raised awareness of the plight of Petrotrin’s workers, support companies and fenceline communities.

It was also a dramatic failure of communication on both sides who held their respective podiums for at least a week before the event itself but were only able to fill news pages and broadcasts with angry rhetoric and bluster. There is greater awareness today than there was a week ago of the level of concern for the future of Petrotrin and its workers, but where is the understanding? The clarity of statement? The making of a case to the public that articulates a position and a counter position?

This is a discourse that is smothered in emotion that needs to be anchored in facts and clearer articulation of plans. By that measure, with the attention of the nation focused on the issue on September 7, both the union and the Government failed completely.

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