President of the National Trade Union Centre Watson Duke assured workers of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) that the trade unions will protect them from retrenchment.
Duke was speaking at a press conference held by several trade union leaders on Thursday, including NATUC, the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), National Union and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN)
“We will protect your nice paying jobs,” said Duke, “but more than that, we will give you an increase.”
Duke offered the protection of the trade unions to all union workers present at the meeting, including the TT Electricity Commission (TTEC), TT Postal Service (TTPOST), and the Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL).
He said the government had turned workers against the trade unions.
“They make you want to hate those who have given you the right to collective bargain (and) overtime…those who established good paying jobs for you.”
He said WASA and TTEC remain the last of the "dinosaurs" where the pay is good.
“When people see you work there, they want to match your money because your money look good.”
He said students coming out of university are aspiring to work at both companies because of the promise of a good salaries.
President General of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) James Lambert told union members that their current salaries were not given to them by the government in office, or any government before them.
“We negotiate for (workers),” he said. “The ones that the government is directly responsible for…working for $150 a day. If rain fall, they get nothing. If they get sick, they get nothing.”
Lambert highlighted a water-relief initiative put forth by recently appointed executive director Lennox Sealy, called the Executive Director’s Water Relief Fund.
“The management of WASA has embarked on an (initiative), starting with the cleaners, requesting for them to donate $10 from wages. They said the $10 is for the poor people. So, you taking from the poor to give to the poor. We are the poor.”
Newsday was given a copy of the form at the press conference. It requests a salary deduction for both monthly and daily rated workers of a minimum of $10 that will be used to assist disadvantaged communities, families, and people without access to pipe-borne water.
“It is the responsibility of management and the government of TT to ensure that the poor class is seen after. We consider (the initiative) as extortion.
“I have been advised that some of (the workers) have signed because they are being bullied by certain managers because they are afraid that if they do not sign, they will lose their jobs.”
In a brief phone interview with Newsday on Thursday, Sealy said the initiative was not mandatory and he was unaware that anyone was upset. “It is a voluntary contribution,” he said.
Sealy said people have signed up to make the contribution and any insinuation that workers were forced to do so was untrue. He accused trade union leaders of "dramatising" the situation. He added that there have been absolutely no discussions about job loss.
Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales, responding to Newsday via WhatsApp, said “The initiative to purchase water tanks to disadvantaged communities…is a voluntary social initiative by the (Sealy) to assist vulnerable citizens.
“It is wholly voluntary, and no one is being made to sign this. If some staff members do not wish to participate, they are free. I am also willing to make a contribution to this very noble gesture. I think the unions should also consider participating in this initiative…I see nothing objectionable about it.”
At the union leaders' press conference earlier, union members set fire to a number of forms for the initiative.
Gonzales also said the restructuring process has only recently started.
“Systems are still being put in place to implement the recommendations of the report of the Cabinet subcommittee which was laid in the Parliament.”
He said the unions were critical stakeholders and would be engaged with respect to any decisions regarding staffing at WASA.
JTUM President Ancel Roget said the trade unions have jointly written to WASA's acting director of corporate services to request a meeting.
Union leaders have also written a letter to Minister of Works and transport Rohan Sinanan to discuss the proposed privatisation of the Port Authority of Port of Spain.
Roget said they were yet to receive a response.