THE EDITOR: The withdrawal of the umbrella bodies of the trade unions from the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) has been brought once more into the spotlight, given the earnest pleas of Deborah Thomas-Felix, President of the Industrial Court, for the social partners (government, employers and labour) to get their act together and seek to reap the enormous benefits that are available via the mechanism of a properly functioning national tripartite body.
Of course, Thomas-Felix is quite correct in her assessment of this matter.
TT has since independence, often enough, established such a mechanism but all such arrangements have ended disastrously. As in the current case, the foundation was not properly laid and the edifice soon crumbled. If we are truly committed to having a properly functioning NTAC, then we should "make haste slowly" and, therefore, take a step backward before moving forward.
In my view, the Government should request the assistance of the International Labour Organization (ILO), via its sub-regional office here in Port of Spain, to get one or more of its experts on this subject matter to facilitate discussions at a symposium/seminar for the social partners on the requirements/prerequisites for a properly functioning national tripartite body, including the benefits and limitations of such a body.
From my cursory analysis based on the information available in the local news media, it seems the social partners are not all on the same page. Each social partner has a different perspective as to how the body should function.
That needs to be resolved by the ILO given, among other things, the "best practices" or "good practices" available from countries that have effective/properly functioning national tripartite bodies. That would go a long way towards addressing any unrealistic expectations of the social partners.
Moreover, subsequent to the hosting of the symposium, the ILO experts should assist in the drafting of the relevant documents outlining, among other things, the rules of engagement so that the social partners have a clear understanding of their roles and functions, and the remit of NTAC.
The ILO experts could also arrange for some of the countries which have had success stories to share their experiences, good and bad, in a virtual setting at the symposium.
But even before the ILO experts address the more immediate concerns related to the national tripartite body, they ought to address the issue of the mistrust of the parties towards each other since the work of NTAC could be severely hampered if such mistrust was allowed to persist. Accordingly, the ILO experts have to embark on some trust-building exercises with the social partners.
The social partners do not have to reinvent the wheel for there to be a successful national tripartite body in TT, given global "best practices" and the expertise available via the ILO. However, they may need to reinvent themselves.
In this context, the social partners need to do some introspection and discard deeply entrenched patterns of behaviour and values that are anachronistic in today's world and, therefore, need to be changed for better options.
The ILO experts can also assist in this regard. However, those people familiar with substance abuse therapy know that you first have to admit to yourself that you have a problem before you can honestly be receptive to suggestions geared towards solving the problem.
The ILO experts, even after all the preliminary work has been done – in respect of the revitalisation/relaunch of NTAC – should have a continuing role in the supervision of NTAC's work and be available, at least virtually, for consultations/advice. The countries with best practices should also be utilised as a source of such consultations/advice.
I humbly recommend my suggestions as the way forward for NTAC.
LOUIS W WILLIAMS