This is a joint statement from the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce(TTCIC), American Chamber of Commerce T&T, Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA).

The Government of Trinidad & Tobago’s stated policy is “to foster and develop a peaceful, competitive and productive industrial relations climate”.  The business community fully supports this policy objective and recognizes that achieving this objective is vital for the social and economic development of Trinidad & Tobago.

For the much needed diversification of our economy to take place, we must 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 need to reverse the current trend in declining productivity.  As the Honourable Prime Minister stated in his address to the inauguration ceremony of the National Tripartite Advisory Council on the 16th March 2016, boosting productivity must be our preeminent objective.    

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 existing industrial relations system and climate will not lead to sustainable jobs, job security, or competitiveness for our people and our country. We therefore need a new industrial relations system.

In accordance with our international commitments to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the new industrial relations system must provide effective protection for employees, whilst simultaneously creating space for employers to deliver the growth that will ultimately lead to more jobs and an expanded economy.

The labour movement has played an essential role in our socio-economic history and the importance of trade unions in improving the lives of our citizens is beyond doubt.   However, as the global economy changes and the very nature of work evolves through the advent of new technology and processes, new kinds of leadership and different stakeholder collaboration is required.   Unions must become partners in improving the level of productivity in the workplace with a shared accountability with employers in improving the competency of the workforce.   Unions must support employers in ensuring ethical work practices, aligned to global standards, in areas such as safety, occupational health and employee welfare.

Citizens of Trinidad & Tobago are today demanding transparency and accountability from all stakeholders, including employers, unions, courts and all other institutions.  The industrial relations framework must provide that transparency and accountability if we are to have a system that is trusted by our citizens and which meets their needs.  All stakeholders must be held accountable for their actions.

The existing Industrial Relations Act has served its purpose. The economic and social environment has changed since its introduction in 1972 and legislation must evolve to meet changing local and international conditions.

Legislation to protect employee rights

Trinidad & Tobago needs industrial relations legislation that is rights-based, balancing employee rights with employee obligations.  The legislation must ensure justice and fair employment practices for all employees.  It should comply with the ILO conventions to which Trinidad & Tobago is a signatory.  The industrial relations legislation must be beneficial to both the overall national interest and to individual employees.  The basic premise of our industrial relations legislation must be that every employee must have unfettered access to the law and the freedom to associate as they see fit, including the right to represent themselves.

Under the current Industrial Relations Act, employees in Trinidad & Tobago do not have full employment rights. Employees lack:

•      The right to freedom of association,
•      The right of individual access to the Industrial Court, and
•      The right to determine their own individual terms and conditions of employment.

Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must address these omissions and ensure alignment with the existing international conventions to which Trinidad & Tobago is a signatory. Our Industrial Relations Act must be rights-based and address ethical issues within employment relationships.  Amendments to the Industrial Relations Act must take cognizance of the fact that many non-unionized businesses already provide a fair and equitable work environment for employees.  Employees in such businesses should have the ability to access employment rights and remedies without having to join a trade union. The industrial relations legislation must offer protection to all employees – unionized and non-unionized.

The reform process

Reform of the current industrial relations framework will only be successful if it is achieved through a consultative approach involving all business associations, labour organizations and other civil society organisations.  All voices must be heard and respected. The reform process should be wide-reaching and include all of the enabling institutions and agencies. It must be transparent and fair in addressing the interests of all stakeholders.

The government has made a positive start to this process through the consultative process established by the Minister of Labour and the establishment of the National Tripartite Advisory Council.  The business community is fully committed to playing an active role in this process.

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.