The current low commodity price environment has focused national attention on the diversification of the economy. In a small economy, diversification is only going to happen if we have competitive, export-driven companies who are able to sell goods and services beyond our borders. If we are going to be globally competitive, we urgently need to reverse the current trend in declining productivity.
One of the most important elements needed to increase productivity is a dynamic labour market and a supportive industrial relations environment. We need an industrial relations system that promotes flexibility and open dialogue between employers and employees, rather than a system that just protects entrenched interests. The reality is that the current industrial relations system, and the confrontational industrial relations climate, will not lead to sustainable jobs, job security, or competitiveness for our people and our country in the new global economy.
Trinidad and Tobago needs a new Industrial Relations Act. The old Industrial Relations Act has served our country well but its time has passed. The economic environment has changed, social conditions have changed and rapid developments in technology have meant that the very nature of work has changed. Our legislation must evolve to meet the changing local and international conditions.
Any new legislation in Trinidad and Tobago must be based firstly on ensuring we meet our obligations to create decent work, as laid out in our commitments to International Labour Organisation conventions. We must ensure that we have effective protection for all employees, whilst simultaneously creating space for employers to ensure the growth that will ultimately lead to more jobs and an expanded economy.
The new Industrial Relations Act must be rightsbased and address ethical issues. It must also take cognisance of the fact that most non-unionised businesses already provide a fair and equitable work environment for employees. Nevertheless, employees in such businesses should have the ability to access employment rights and remedies without having to join a trade union. The new Industrial Relations Act must find a way to offer protection to all employees and must address the current omissions and the areas where we do not conform with our international obligations, for example the right to freedom of association.
The new Industrial Relations Act must be delivered through a consultative process, involving business, government and the trade unions. The interdependence of business and labour becomes more obvious in tough economic times. Employment security depends on business survival and business survival depends on the ability to be competitive and dynamic. If we are going to preserve jobs through the current economic downturn, we need a collaborative and cooperative approach amongst business, labour, civil society and government. The newly appointed National Tripartite Advisory Council will have a crucial role to play in this regard. The Energy Chamber is committed to playing a constructive role in this important new national institution and ensuring we deliver a sustainable future for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.