Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago - Friday 14 December 2018
This Statement is in response to the escalating demands for me, in my capacity as Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, to speak out on the subject of the Industrial Relations issues concurrently engaging the attention of employers and workers representatives mainly in two institutions in Trinidad and Tobago.
Contrary to what may be perceived in the public domain, the record of my allegiance to the philosophy of Trade Union Representation as an integral component of the democratic process in Trinidad and Tobago needs no reaffirmation.
The Labour Leaders with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating in my previous incarnation are all fully aware of my commitment. This is reinforced by the unprecedented number of consultations which I have had with the Trade Union Leadership since my assumption of Cabinet responsibility for the portfolio of the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development a little over three years ago. As part of my Ministerial responsibility, these consultations will continue. So far they have been extremely encouraging and are about to bear good fruit.
Indelibly entrenched in my Ministerial role, is the imperative to honour the principle of collective responsibility. It is a principle which demands that I function within the boundaries of the legislative framework which governs Industrial Relations practices in Trinidad and Tobago.
While therefore I empathise with the hardships being experienced by some of my fellow citizens whose services have been terminated at one time or the other for reasons of redundancy, insolvency or receivership, in keeping with the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act Chapter 88:01, it is incumbent upon the Minister and the Ministry to maintain neutrality in the discharge of our responsibilities.
The IRA provides a legal mechanism for the resolution of Trade disputes. The Minister of Labour/Ministry of Labour is expected to perform the role of neutral third party when Conciliation proceedings are conducted under its auspices. In this connection Trade Disputes are reported to the Minister by Trade Unions or Employers under Part V of the IRA. In addition to the formal procedure for the reporting of trade disputes, the Minister’s intervention is often sought by either party in a dispute by written corresponda requesting such intervention.
It follows that under the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act it will be in contravention of the statutes and indeed in poor taste for the Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development to immerse herself into the process of industrial relations disputes prematurely.
In circumstances where all genuine legislated conciliatory initiatives at arriving at a resolution prove to be futile, the Minister’s intervention becomes the penultimate stage that precedes referral to the Industrial Court for final adjudication.
In the current matters which are attracting public attention, the Communication Workers’ Union by letters dated November 28 2018, November 30, 2018 and December 4, 2018 reported three trade disputes to the Minister with respect to the retrenchment of five hundred and two (502) workers. These disputes were duly acknowledged and a Conciliation Meeting was held today December 14, 2018 at 10:00 am at the Ministry’s Conciliation Unit, Duke Place, Duke Street Office, Port of Spain.
In the other matters which are in the public domain the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union reported sixty-two (62) Trade Disputes with the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago to the Minister on November 30, 2018, with respect to the retrenchment of workers in all six Bargaining Units. The Disputes were duly acknowledged and a Conciliation Meeting was fixed for today December 14, 2018 at 10:00 am at the Conciliation Unit San Fernando Sub Office of the Ministry’s Hosein’s Building, St. James Street Office, San Fernando.
As a consequence, it is incumbent upon the Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development to refrain from speaking out prematurely on any of these issues lest the Minister runs the risk of being accused of displaying bias or of being accused of misbehaviour in public office.
As Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, I remain optimistic that, when all is said and done, all stakeholders will approach the conciliatory process in good faith and in the final analysis, let good sense prevail.
Finally, as Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, I urge all Parties to act with restraint and to respect the spirit, intent and tenets of Collective Agreements and exhaust all efforts to resolve Disputes in the best interest of all involved.
Senator the Honourable Jennifer Baptiste Primus
Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development
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