President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN) Joseph Remy has welcomed the decision by the Government to include union activities as being essential services.
Saying the federation was happy that the decision “has finally come to pass”, he charged that labour union activities should have been deemed essential from inception.
"It has happened now, but hundreds of thousands of workers have already been subjected to some harsh measures in the absence of trade union representation," Remy told Newsday by phone.
"What has to happen now, is that the trade unions would have to come from behind and deal with a lot of disputes."
Some of these he listed as employers forcing workers to go on leave, laying them off temporarily and permanently as well as all "different kinds of trade disputes."
Effective midnight on March 29, the Government detailed some of the services and businesses considered essentials and non-essentials. All non-essential activities have been prohibited, a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Phase one of the Government’s covid19 reopening plan of the economy began. A Facebook post from the Office of the Prime Minister on Tuesday said Dr Rowley had instructed that all labour union activities should be designated as essential, with immediate effect.
"We feel that it is maybe two months too late, but trade unions will do what they have to do to bring back the workers to a particular place," Remy said speaking on behalf of FITUN.
"I think trade unions will now be in a better position to represent those workers who have been marginalised."
Like FITUN, the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) had also made similar calls for unions to be on the list of essential services.
"This is a call we have been making since inception," said JTUM’s secretary general Ozzy Warwick. "We believe that trade union activities are essential especially since many employers are taking advantage of the situation and violating the rights of workers. The work of trade unions has become even more critical."
President of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce, Kiran Singh, also weighed in on the announcement referring to it as welcome news.
"This is adding to the reopening of the economy and it is a welcome sign for more business activities," he said.
There have been many reports of workers not getting their full rights and privileges from unscrupulous business people, Singh said.
"I think their rights need to be properly represented and ventilated. Unfortunately, workers at the lower end of the income scale tend to feel the financial brunt of a crisis like what we are going through right now."
He said the chamber continues to advocate for smaller businesses to be considered for reopening. Some of these businesses he identified as auto service repair, stationery and book stores, sales and repair of communication equipment and art and craft stores.
"These are not crowd gatherers, but it creates economic activities that we desperately need in our country. These can be brought under the umbrella of services that support the essential," Singh suggested.
Once again, he called on TTEC to give the business community some relief during the pandemic saying business owners are faced with a huge expenditure at the end of the month.
"We would appreciate some sort of deferral or rebate or discount. When there is a demand shortfall, we still must pay," he said.
"Through no fault of us, we face this crisis and we are suffering financially and socially as well. Maybe the trade unions can also look into this."