MICHAEL Annisette, head of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU), was unimpressed with the Prime Minister’s appeal to trade unions to ease up the Government on demanding outstanding pay-hikes. At a televised PNM meeting in Diego Martin on Saturday, Dr Rowley said the Government on taking office had borrowed $6 billion to pay public servants, but could only pay further sums owed when the country’s financial state improved.
However on Sunday, Annisette told Newsday that in its five years in office the Government had steadfastly refused to meet unions, but now was trying to goad the unions into doing what it wanted.
“His appeal has no meaning because you failed to address the trade union movement for five years. You took a deliberate decision.
“Can they deny the letters NATUC (the National Trade Union Centre) had sent out seeking a conversation on this matter?”
Annisette said, as an employer, the Government has a legal and moral duty to meet trade unions every three to five years to discuss wages and terms and conditions of work under International Labour Organisation (ILO) protocols. He said the Government had failed to do so and cannot now stand on a platform to make demands of workers. Annisette accused the Government of a disregard and insensitivity to worker.
“As a Government you have a choice of whether to feed your citizens or build a new flyover or bridge.”
Likewise, he said the Government had found money to inject to keep the economy going after the covid19 lockdown, but asked what had they done for the workers?
Annisette said it is the wages and spending of workers which lifts an economy.
“But when you depress wages, what does that do to productivity and the workers’ ability to meet their financial commitments?”
He said public servants had not had a wage-hike since 2012, while others such as Cipriani Labour College lecturers were living on 2007 salary levels. Saying he did not buy the PM’s idea of depressing wages to save jobs, Annisette instead wanted the Government to depress prices faced by workers.
Saying the Government failed to invest to create any financial returns, he lamented they were simply living in expectation of a rise in world prices of oil and gas.
“To solve a problem there must be a meeting of minds, not when something flares up.”
Annisette said if the private sector could settle wage-hikes with unions, why couldn’t the Government also? He said front-line workers in the covid19 pandemic deserved more than applause.
“They deserve to be properly paid.”
Annisette said recent street protests reflected the pain of the working class having to face regular food-price increases on the same wage. Annisette also lamented the Government’s handling of the Tobago sea bridge which he said had devastated the Tobago economy, and their criticism of the Port Authority as corrupt but without bringing evidence.
“We have had three different boards in five years,” he said of the authority.
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