Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 18th 2015 Contents SHEREEN ALI
"I m surprised at how many con-
tract jobs are now around," comment-
ed Psyche Gonzales about the T&T
job scene these days, compared to
just a decade ago.
Psyche Gonzales is 35 and a resident
of the Mount Pleasant community in
Arima. She obtained an accounting
degree some years ago, and lived abroad
for 13 years in New York and London,
before returning to T&T in 2013. She
has been working in administration,
and currently volunteers at The
National Union of Domestic Employees
(Nude). "I grew up with Miss Walcott,
with Nude," she said in an interview
with the T&T Guardian on Tuesday.
Clotil Walcott was one of the out-
spoken co-founders of Nude some 40
years ago. Her daughter, Ida Le Blanc,
today works at Nude as general sec-
retary, and is a strong advocate for
women s rights in the workplace, fol-
lowing in her mother s footsteps.
Nude began in 1974, at first as a
section of the Union of Ship Builders,
Ship Repairers and Allied Workers, to
represent all low-income workers,
including cooks, kitchen helpers, maids,
seamstresses, barmen, babysitters,
chauffeurs, gardeners, messengers and
household assistants. Its current mem-
bership includes all kinds of household
or domestic workers, with most mem-
bers being women.
Psyche Gonzales said she has learned
a lot about workers issues through
volunteering at Nude, which helps
people who are arguably most in need
of worker protection. In fact, household
workers are still not recognised as
workers under the T&T Industrial
Relations Act, which means that they
are denied collective bargaining rights
and often have no legal redress for
many employment grievances, which
can range from unfair dismissals to
non-payment of NIS contributions,
to actual physical and other abuse by
Gonzales thinks it is in young peo-
ple s interest to learn about unions.
"I was surprised when I came back
(to T&T in 2013) at how many contract
jobs there are. That wasn t something
that was this big, when I left. It wasn t
something I was familiar with working
in the US either, these short-term con-
"So you no longer have job security.
If you re not sure you re going to have
a job next year, or in six months, then
it s tougher for you to fight for things,
like helmets or safety gear for ware-
house workers. If your contract is com-
ing to an end, you re not really going
to tilt the windmill. So I think it s
important for young people to get
familiar with unions, because collective
bargaining is powerful, and we need
to raise our awareness of it, for all
kinds of industries."
She said she knows of several On
The Job trainees, for instance, who are
not only poorly paid, but who get no
overtime even though they are (often
unfairly) expected to work on weekends
and extra hours.
She notes that few young people
here may really know their own history
in terms of the part trades unions
played, because it s often not taught.
"I remember in primary school read-
ing just a little blurb---a paragraph ---
of something about Uriah Butler in
Social Studies. Never again, after that.
That was pretty much it, in school (on
the whole history of the labour move-
ment). They didn t talk about it in
History. I did Business, Economics---
they don t talk about trades unions or
specifically Trinidad s labour move-
ments. So unless you go to work for
WASA, for instance, then yes---the first
thing they tell you is to join a union.
But if you go to work for Republic
Bank, that s not really the case."
"Young people really don t have that
knowledge, that awareness, of what
unions can do, unless they hear about
issues like backpay, or vacation leave,
and the role of unions is more powerful
than that," believes Gonzales.
"Unions can help the employer, too:
they can have a more cohesive unit,
they can have a better relationship
with their workers," said Gonzales. She
said this was far better than having a
relationship of fear between employers
and workers, where issues quietly bub-
ble away beneath the surface until they
boil over explosively, due to no outlets
or communication or no peaceful
mechanisms for working things out.
But unions themselves can do a bet-
ter job at organising their own business,
thinks Gonzales. She gave the example
of a relative who is in a T&T union,
but who does not feel well represented
by them at all, because he often has
no idea when union meetings are held.
"So even where unions exist, edu-
cating people in the union does not
happen in the way it should," she says.
"So although we have activities on
Labour Day, programmes by unions
and Government should be more con-
sistent in educating younger people,"
she thinks. "It s about mobilising your
"So you should know that Uriah
Butler is more than a highway. That
Rienzi is more than a building."
'Too many young people
unaware of union roles'
Thursday, June 18, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
• From Page B3
The ATGWTU union has had
a significant history in T&T. In
1937, the All Trinidad Sugar
Estate and Factory Workers Trade
Union (ATSEFWTU, as it was
then called) was among the very
first trades unions to be registered
in T&T, along with the Oilfield
Workers Trade Union (OWTU).
Adrian Rienzi was elected pres-
ident of both OWTU and ATSE-
FWTU that year.
The union helped birth political
parties. Basdeo Panday became
president general of the ATSE-
FWTU in May 1973, later allying
with other union members,
George Weekes and Raffique
Shah, to form the United Labour
Front political party in 1975.
The labour union-born ULF
was the very first political party
which hoped to unite the mainly
black workers in the oil industry
with the mainly Indian workers
in the sugar industry, it became
T&T s Opposition party in Par-
liament for years, and was a pre-
cursor to both the NAR in 1986
and the UNC in 1988. And sup-
port from the sugar union mem-
bership helped Panday to become
the first Indian and Hindu prime
minister (1995-2001) in the his-
tory of T&T.
More recently, in late 2014, the
ATGWTU formed a new political
party, the National Solidarity
Assembly (NSA), to help in lob-
bying efforts to resolve continuing
issues with ex-Caroni workers.
The NSA party has since gone
dormant (although it still exists),
as dialogue continues with State
Quite apart from unions
potential to be launching pads
for political parties, unions them-
selves can perform valuable serv-
ices in industries they represent.
Ramlochan said unions can help
people obtain better working
conditions, better wages, and
healthier, safer working environ-
ments. Employers don t always
provide these things unless
unions help to lobby for them
and negotiate terms for them to
Ramlochan tellingly reminded
us that: "We often tend to forget
the struggles and what the trade
union movement has done for
the working class---such as the
minimum wage, personal emer-
gency leave, health insurance,
retirement plans, and much
Now, just imagine life without
a minimum wage.
'The union helped
birth political parties'
Clotil Walcott was one of the
founders of Nude in 1974.
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