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WAS LABOUR MISLED?

Published: 
Sunday, May 1, 2016

Recent statements being made by David Abdulah, former general secretary of the OWTU and current political leader of the MSJ, seem to suggest that the labour movement never expected to be treated in the way they are currently being treated by the Government. Abdulah’s most recent commentary included the following last Sunday:

"At no point in time in that presentation in the House and subsequently in the Senate did the Minister of Finance indicate that it was on his mind to get assistance from the IMF and World Bank. As far as he was concerned, he was on top of everything, the Government was in charge, in control, they knew what the problems are, they knew what solutions they would pursue and within 14 days he announces that he had made a request to the IMF and World Bank for advice and those persons are actually here in Trinidad and Tobago…This is an amazing indication of the abject failure of the Minister of Finance and speaks to the lack of proper transparency and accountability." (Newsday, April 25, 2016, p 9).

This was a stinging assault on the Minister of Finance and, by extension, the Government from a member of its own Economic Advisory Board. However, it was not the only adverse comment made about the Government by people in the vanguard of the labour movement. Rhondor Dowlat reporting in the Guardian had this to say about Ancel Roget:

"The Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) is asking for tomorrow’s mid-term review of the budget to be deferred until it is briefed on its contents and given a chance to contribute to the process.

Speaking after a two-hour meeting with Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus yesterday evening, OWTU president general Ancel Roget said they were not privy to measures in the mid-term budget and therefore it could not get their support. ‘If there are measures that would bring hardship to the workers who are already reeling under pressure and it were not first discussed with us, although we have a Memorandum of Understanding that dictates to us that we would have meaningful, deep and wide consultation, and we did not have that, well certainly our position is clear…We should have meaningful consultation before major decisions that will impact workers in this country are taken. We cannot support any measure that will be adverse to workers,’ he added." (Guardian, April 7, 2016).

These comments relate to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Joint Trade Union Movement, led by Ancel Roget who is also the president-general of the OWTU, and the PNM led by Dr Keith Rowley on August 27, 2015. The provision of article four of that MOU stated the following:

"4. Recognizing that workers involvement within the country’s system of governance is central to the economic planning and therefore the cycle of confrontation can be brought to an end through genuine consultation." (MOU between the PNM and the JTUM Regarding Trade Union Involvement in Governance, signed August 27, 2015, by Dr Keith Rowley and Mr Ancel Roget).

This particular clause in the MOU is apparently the sticking point between labour and the Government as it is apparent that there was no consultation between the parties before Minister Imbert’s mid-year review on April 8 instant.

One is beginning to get the feeling that labour might have been outplayed politically given their support for the PNM leading up to, and coming out of, the last general election.

Their ideological position would not sanction the inclusion of IMF/World Bank advisers on the way forward for the economy. However, Minister Imbert made it clear in the Parliament last Monday that the approach of the Government is to listen to a wide range of views before settling on any one course of action.

Article ten of the MOU read as follows:

"The establishment of a National Tripartite Mechanism reflecting the Principle of Equality of Treatment, with dedicated resources and clear Terms of Reference."

It would appear that the Government honoured its undertaking in the MOU to establish the National Tripartite Advisory Council on March 15 last. Despite this, there still seems to be some angst in the ranks of the labour movement about the handling of the economy by the Government based on the public comments of Roget and Abdulah.

The examination of their public comments would seem to identify two sources of discomfort, namely (i) the lack of consultation, and (ii) the presence of the IMF and World Bank advisers.

The Economic Advisory Board was appointed on November 20 last year, and consists of Dr Terrence Farrell as chairman as well as Trevor Lynch, Alison Lewis, Dr Rolph Balgobin, Dr Selvon Hazel, Dr Ronald Ramkissoon, David Abdulah, Prof Karl Theodore and Dr Marlene Attzs. Last week, Dr Keith Nurse and Prof Godfrey Mungal were added to the board. 

The tone of the comments from Roget and Abdulah are beginning to sound like they now feel that they might have been misled last August when the MOU was signed. Their next steps will reveal their true positions on the way forward.

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