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Tuesday 20 August 2019
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Commentary

Upholding worker rights

TTUTA

OVER THE past year TTUTA has been forced to engage in a crusade to persuade legislators to make the necessary amendments to Act No 77 of 2000, known as the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of TT (COSTAATT) Act.

This became necessary when in the legitimate pursuit of their rights as workers, the lecturers at the college attempted, via TTUTA, to have the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board (RRCB) acknowledge TTUTA as their recognised majority union with concomitant collective bargaining status.

TTUTA made the relevant application to the RRCB in 2012 and the board refused to grant majority bargaining status to TTUTA based on Section 2 (3) (c) of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA)which states, inter alia:

“For the purposes of this Act, no person should be regarded as a worker, if he is:

c) A member of the Teaching Service as defined by the Education Act, or is employed in a teaching capacity by a university or other institution of higher learning.”

This reminds us that the Education Act does not regard members of the Teaching Service as workers with concomitant rights, a provision that TTUTA was obliged to challenge in 1979 by forcing the government of the day to make the necessary amendment to the Education Act in order for TTUTA to gain recognised collective bargaining status for members of the Teaching Service.

This section of the IRA indicates that lecturers of COSTAATT are not entitled to the right to collective bargaining (not being defined as “workers” under existing law). TTUTA views this as a contravention of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention 98 which speaks to the right to organise and bargain collectively.

In addition, ILO Convention 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, in Article 2 states, “Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation.”

Article 8 further states that “the law of the land shall not be such as to impair, nor shall it be so applied as to impair, the guarantees provided for in this convention.”

Given that TT ratified both these conventions since May 24, 1963, the trade union movement has consistently articulated that the existing provision of the IRA is a contravention of both these conventions and is oppressive and anti-worker in its intent.

This point has been made ad nauseam by trade unions over the years, calling on the authorities to amend all these pieces of antiquated legislation that infringe on the rights of workers.

Promises to effect the necessary amendments have been made by the current Minister of Labour having herself been part of that call over the years. We are yet to see such proposed amendments on the legislative reform agenda, nor do we detect any political urgency to treat with this issue.

In the interim, TTUTA has been forced to seek to have the authorities make the necessary amendments to the COSTAATT legislation to enable this group of “workers” to enjoy their right to be a part of a union and to collective bargaining. This injustice has resulted in these people being paid 2011 salaries. It also denies them involvement in the consultative process with the COSTAATT board in the ongoing restructuring of the institution.

In her address to the Industrial Court at the opening of its 2013-2014 term, Debra Thomas-Felix, current President of the Industrial Court, addressing the right of citizens to collective bargaining, stated, “The denial of the legal right to representation and to collective bargaining to the ordinary citizen is something which in my view should not be overlooked or taken lightly.”

Additionally, in referencing ILO Conventions 87 and 98 she stated, “These are core international labour standards which ought to be adhered to across all sectors of the working community and their contribution in promoting good and equitable labour relations in the public sector worldwide cannot be overstated.”

TTUTA sympathises with the plight of this section of its membership and laments its inability to ensure that these lecturers are able to engage in collective bargaining like their colleagues in other tertiary institutions.

This perceived indifference by the authorities in treating with the matter has caused these lecturers to become demotivated and disenchanted. It is a clear case of inequitable labour relations and does not augur well for the industrial relations landscape in the country. It’s time to fix the COSTAATT legislation.

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