Trinidad and Tobago
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Unions tell government: Workers matter, give us more than 2%

Jensen La Vende General Secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) Michael Annisette leads a protest against government’s two per cent wage increase offer to public sector workers on Friday. Photo by Sureash Cholai
General Secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) Michael Annisette leads a protest against government’s two per cent wage increase offer to public sector workers on Friday. Photo by Sureash Cholai

HUNDREDS of workers on Friday were reminded by their various union heads that they were important and an offer of a two per cent increase over eight years was an insult.

On Friday, the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc), with general secretary Michael Annisette at the front, led the crowd from Memorial Park to Central Bank, Independence Square, Port of Spain.

The march began at 10.30 am and ended just before 2 pm.

Like all marches, there were moments it resembled a Carnival band more than a workers' protest, however, at the final spot at Independence Square, the atmosphere was serious and the message clear: workers deserve better.

“They said that we belly soft but we are demonstrating today and we must let them know, we must be respected.

“This is not a one-day thing eh, we have more coming because if they ain’t move we ain’t moving too.”

The unions under the Natuc umbrella rejected the government’s offer of a two per cent wage increase over the years 2014-2021. This is for two collective bargaining periods 2014-2018 and 2019-2021. For each period, the offer is a one per cent increase.

“The time will come where we will have to increase what we are doing to another level. We intend to stand up and show this Government that is we (sic) who keep this economy going.

“Without workers you cannot be voted in. Allyuh remember that is we who vote them in and is we who will vote them out. Let them play with we. We warning you (government) come back to the table. This is just the smoke, we have plenty fire to burn them.”

The Chief Personnel Officer, Dr Daryl Dindial, on Wednesday, said he would meet with union heads next month.

The first meeting will be with the Police Service Social Welfare Association on June 10.

Then Fire Services Association three days later before meeting with the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW), who represents daily paid workers on June 15.

On June 17 Dindial meets with the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) then with the largest union body in the country the Public Services Association (PSA) on June 21. His last meeting will be on June 24 with the Prison Officers Association.

NUGFW president James Lambert directed his message to the Prime Minister. He chastised Dr Rowley’s comments on how much it would cost to offer a higher increase than two per cent. He added that government’s offer unified the unions.

On Sunday when he returned from Guyana, Rowley said “The CPO has offered one per cent for each of the two periods. Let’s double that and go to two plus two, for a total of four per cent. That will cost a backpay of $1.45 billion if that’s all you do, and of course an additional $730 million a year to put forward, because once you change the pay, there’s a permanent increase going forward. Question is, is that sustainable?”

Annisette said those facts were irrelevant and called on Rowley to use money given to the country for the pandemic either as a loan or a gift to pay workers an increased salary.

“We waiting for you (PM), local government election coming. We are saying that when the time come we will show you. We have 15,000 people today and you will sit around the table and say let us share the pie.”

North West Regional Health Authority workers participate in a protest against a two per cent wage increase offer made to public sector workers by government on Friday. Photo by Sureash Cholai

Contractors and General Workers Union general secretary Ermine Debique who wore a black belt around her neck and a black ribbon said the ribbon signified death and the belt was a representation of the government choking workers.

She rallied the gathering to support the union leaders telling them “we cannot do it alone.”

“You all give us the strength to go forward. This government has insulted us time and time again, and this is the time we should send a strong message that states we are not prepared to take this disrespect. We have the power in our in our hands!”

President General of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union Ancel Roget said the workers would have hired the government to ensure that their standard of living increased.

He said, from 2014 to now, their standard of living has deteriorated to likes never before seen prior to the Rowley-led government.

On the idea that increased wages may mean loss of jobs for some as alluded to by Rowley, Roget said, “you can’t frighten us Rowley” much to the approval of the crowd.

“We demand a reasonable increase for all the workers here. We expect nothing else!”

He added that there cannot be just one march and rallied the crowd to be consistent and to ready themselves for when they are called on by the unions.

PSA president Leroy Baptiste said based on the Central Statistical Office’s data, the lowest inflation percentage from 2014 to present was 45 per cent. He questioned how is it possible then for two per cent to cover the shortfall.

“We the workers will insist that we have the right to afford a home, tenure in our jobs and maintain our standard of living. Rowley will come to respect the workers of Trinidad and Tobago!”