Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 13th 2017 Contents JULY 13 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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Time to end
THEM VS US
Looking at the trade union movement as it exists
in T&T today, one gets the sense that unions are
fighting ideological battles rather than practical
Let me state categorically, that mobilised
unions representing workers rights is, in fact,
a good thing, and the trade union movement collectively has
done much for empowering workers and improving the con-
ditions under which they work in this country.
But even a good thing can be taken too far.
To begin with, T&T has entered a "new normal" as far as
this country's economic reality is concerned.
Low energy prices are predicted to be the prevailing circum-
stances in the near to medium term; barring any unforeseen
Even when new gas fields are brought into production in
the coming months, the new gas isn't "additional" gas--- all
it will do is fill in a portion of the gaping hole in the current
gas supply shortage situation.
So the "lower for longer" scenario is likely to be the order
of the day for some time.
The implications of this are fairly obvious.
Fiscal revenues and the Government's ability to spend as a
result is likely to remain muted.
Many private sector organisations are also feeling the squeeze.
Companies have been forced to send home workers both
to rebalance costs in a contracting economy and, in some in-
stances, simply to survive.
With this as the backdrop, one wonders if the almost weekly
rumblings of some of the country's largest trade unions can
reasonably be justified?
Looking at the state sector, for example, there are companies
whose performance over many years leaves much to be desired.
In fact, so bad has been their financial performance---and
service delivery---that in order for the government to have
any chance of curtailing further wastage requires that they
be completely shutdown.
Shutting down a company is certainly no easy task and
having workers placed on the breadline is not something any
organisation takes lightly.
But therein lies the dichotomy: should the government con-
tinue to pour money into financially leaky vessels or make the
tough, but necessary, decision to end the wastage?
It is in these areas that some in the trade union movement
seem to miss the bigger picture, and it would be to their ben-
efit to take a more collaborative stance than a combative one.
How can we as a country clamour for efficiency in govern-
ment spending and less wastage on the one hand, but support
inefficiency and wastage by allowing unprofitable state en-
terprises to continue unchecked on the other?
Fighting pitched battles the way unions have done tradi-
tionally (the "them" versus "us" scenario) does no good for
both the unions and the members they represent.
It would perhaps be useful for the unions to recognise that
sometimes their actions are, in effect, tantamount to "biting
the hand that feeds them."
An object lesson in this regard would be the now infamous
"take your rig and go" statement as a clear case of bluster over
For sure, changing the way unions and companies engage
will require re-examination of the current labour laws in T&T.
Using Petrotrin as an example, under the cur-
rent laws the company will find it difficult,
if not plainly impossible, to restructure its
operations when faced with any opposition
from its majority union.
This in spite of the fact that the company
has been bleeding financially for years and others in its own
industry have undergone recent restructuring.
Both the union and the company must bargain with a shared
vision of improving the company's financial outlook rather
than take entrenched positions that do more harm than good.
A great example of such "collective effort" came in the 1980s
in the United States.
Chrysler, under the leadership of Lee Iacocca, nominated
then head of the representative union, the United Automobile
Workers (UAW) Douglas Fraser to a seat on the company's board.
Fraser served on the board for four years and was remembered
for both protecting employees' interest as well as extracting
much-needed concessions from them.
Certainly his perspective changed when he was forced to
view Chrysler from a different angle.
The time has come to stop opposing for the sake of opposition.
The time has come to
stop opposing for the
sake of opposition.
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