Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU) vice president Jason Brown told Newsday on Monday workers at Cariri (the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute) had not had a salary increase for eight years.
He was speaking as the union led workers in a peaceful protest at the Cariri building in St Augustine to demand change.
"Today, workers of Cariri are planning to gather at the central office at UWI campus to stage a very peaceful protest to indicate to management that they are not willing to accept the lethargy and slowness with which they are operating regarding the current negotiations.
"Cariri (workers) has not had a settled collective agreement in over six years – that is two periods – and that is unacceptable to the workers and to the union."
Brown said it was totally unacceptable for the Cariri management to fail even to lay down an offer to start the negotiations.
He said some 120 workers were affected by the impasse.
Brown said the BIGWU team had met with three Cariri managers on four occasions and were anxiously awaiting their proposal.
Asked by how much the average Cariri worker was now out of pocket as a result of these stalled negotiations, he replied, "anywhere between 40-50 per cent...based on inflation over the last six years."
He said, "We hope the management understands how serious this situation is for the workers and stop dragging their feet and come to the table with a reasonable proposal that allows the union to conclude these negotiations in a fair and amicable way in the shortest time frame possible."
Brown replied two types of complaints were being made.
"You have the exploitation of OJTs – who are on-the-job trainees – who are doing substantive work in the bargaining unit but are paid a minimal wage."
Secondly, he said Cariri workers under negotiation were facing the same hardships as other workers in TT facing the same plight.
"They have to educate their children. They have to feed and clothe their children. They have to pay rent and mortgages. They have to fill their tanks at the gas station, after the exorbitant increases in gas prices after the last two national budgets.
"So that is the pressure they are feeling.
"What is happening is that their standard of living – not that it was great six years ago – is being eroded. While it is being eroded, they have to come to meeting after meeting to hear 'We don't have a proposal for you.'
"So you're in pain but the people who can bring relief to you are simply ignoring your pain."
Brown said the protest was "a wake-up call" to Cariri management and the Government.
Asked what the union would do if the day's protest did not significantly alter Cariri management's position, Brown said, "Then our protest would change from being peaceful and silent."
Newsday was unable to contact Cariri officials but left a message asking them to call back.