Unions urge Govt to protect frontline workers

From left, TIWU president Judy Charles, Natuc president Watson Duke, and Natuc general secretary Michael Annisette at a press conference at Natuc's office on Henry Street, Port of Spain, on Wednesday. - ROGER JACOB
From left, TIWU president Judy Charles, Natuc president Watson Duke, and Natuc general secretary Michael Annisette at a press conference at Natuc's office on Henry Street, Port of Spain, on Wednesday. - ROGER JACOB

MEMBERS of the National Trade Union Centre of TT (Natuc) share mixed views on Government's measures to deal with covid19.

One opinion they share, however, is that the State has not done its best to safeguard the general welfare of a wide cross-section of public workers, who are on the "frontline" in the battle against the virus.

General secretary of Natuc Michael Annisette, said, "We at Natuc are committed to working with the government and all employers to ensure that the work continues, but in the context that the safety of the workers are paramount in whatever exercise is being carried out."

He spoke at a media conference at NUGFW's office on Henry Street, Port of Spain, on Wednesday.

The unions complained of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the most at-risk public-sector workers, the risks facing Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) drivers with regard to social distancing and a lack of information on the labour minister's pandemic-leave policy announcement.

Annisette was supported by first vice-president of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) James Lambert, secretary general of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union Judy Charles and Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke.

Port, customs, PTSC, MTS, health care, immigration, WASA, T&TEC and daily-rated workers were specifically identified as frontline workers, whose functions are crucial, particularly now, said the union leaders.

"What we are discovering is that the government (is) the biggest employer in TT. However, the necessary protocols and personal equipment are not being given out to the workers so that they can carry out their functions.

"We note in the NATUC the government's intentions, which we laud, to pay private-sector companies, to give back food stamps, to stimulate the economy. We applaud the government for that."

But, he said, to the trade union movement that is a contradiction.

"The population must be made aware that workers haven't received wage increases, going back, in some instances, to 2007, and the majority of government workers have not yet received any wage increases going back to 2012.

"And if we are serious about stimulating the economy, if we are serious about putting monies back into the hands of workers, we are asking the question: why it is the government didn't see it fit to extend that level of goodwill to the government employees?

He continued, "We make the call once more, as Natuc, to the government to engage us in meaningful discussion on issues affecting workers as we speak."

Natuc issued a media release earlier on Wednesday, asking members to adhere to the instructions presented by government officials and to comply with any measures imposed during the pandemic.

"Be mindful that this is an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply," Annisette wrote.

Meanwhile, Duke gave a short address, in which he said, "We are dissatisfied with the government's approach," adding that there are certain government services that cannot continue to operate as they normally would.

"The government is using the public servants to bait the public," Duke said.

"The public that are coming out to licensing (offices), NIB – they are coming out to WASA, different places – and when they come out, they are gathering in large numbers on the outside – numbers that do not allow for social distancing.

"Therefore the government, by opening certain services, are causing the public to gather and break their very own law that they are speaking of."

Duke also called on the prime minister to address the issue of pandemic leave, which was raised by Minister of Labour Jennifer Baptiste-Primus.

"Where is the pandemic leave?" he asked. "What is it?"

Baptiste-Primus said on Monday that guidelines on the new policy were being drafted.

Duke's tone had changed from the previous day, when, in an address streamed live online, he said the Prime Minister was "well deserving of a round of applause."

"He has done well. He has sworn to protect the vulnerable in our society, at least those who were terminated, retrenched and those on a reduced income," Duke said, referring to the Dr Rowley's announcement on Monday of the government's intention to assist those who have been financially affected, through assistance with food, rent or mortgage and a supplemented income.

However, he went on to add that Rowley needed to "speak to the needs" of the frontline workers.

In his latest address on Tuesday, Duke once again called for the government to ensure that all workers, who have to interact with the public, are given adequate protective equipment. Either that, he said, or "give the public a face mask, one of the two."


"Unions urge Govt to protect frontline workers"

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