LABOUR Day commemorates the birth of the trade union movement in TT and honours the heroes who challenged the status quo and laid the foundation for the rights and freedoms available to workers today.
Uriah "Buzz" Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Andrew Arthur Cipriani, and Albert Maria Gomes are names which continue to resonate because of their dedication to improving the well-being of workers everywhere and their efforts to force the colonial authorities to treat workers with dignity and respect.
However, President Paula-Mae Weekes, in her Labour Day message to the nation, said while great progress has been made since that turbulent period, many of the grievances advanced by Butler and his contemporaries have yet to be fully resolved.
She said many workers still suffered poor wages, job insecurity, and working conditions which did not satisfy occupational safety and health standards. She said despite legal and institutional frameworks intended to facilitate mediation and the resolution of industrial disputes, the relationship of the state, the private sector, and labour continued to be adversarial with little indication of understanding and compromise.
"From the institution of the encomienda system to African enslavement and Indian indentureship, this nation’s history has been largely defined by unfair and unjust labour practices. Generations of abuse, underpayment, and deplorable living and working conditions came to a head on June 19, 1937, with a series of strikes and riots and giving rise to the establishment of trade unions and the spread of unrest across the region."
The President said in its thrust towards development, TT must take care not to lose sight of the principles and ideals which motivated the forebears of the labour movement.
"Fair wages, decent benefits, and healthy and safe working environments increase productivity and enhance the quality of life for all. A commitment to fairness, equity, and justice, with an understanding of our current economic challenges must be at the heart of discussions and negotiations. Trade unions should be consistently evolving and adjusting their emphases in order to reconcile the needs of their members with the harsh realities of the economic climate."
She said all citizens should take an interest in the history of the labour movement and present-day labour relations, otherwise the same mistakes and misunderstandings will continue to be repeated.
"We can all find common ground for compromise and agreement if our overarching objective is a thriving and prosperous TT. I join with the labour movement and the national community in recognising past injustices, celebrating the achievements of our workers, and looking forward to greater collaboration among all sectors of our society, as we all pursue progress and prosperity."