AWU head to criticisms from labour leaders: They’re all hypocrites

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Amalgamated Workers Union president Michael Prentice and Natuc general secretary Michael Annisette at a news conference in May. – FILE PHOTO/JEFF K MAYERS

Michael Prentice, president of the Amalgamated Workers Union (AWU), which represents daily-paid workers in the Port of Spain Corporation, labelled leaders of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) as hypocrites.

He made the statement in response to the union leaders lambasting him for his acceptance of a four per cent wage increase offered by the Chief Personnel Officer for workers.

He told Newsday, “They are angry because they are not negotiating – they are bent on being destructive. They failed to negotiate for other members to which they have a responsibility. All of them, they are a bunch of hypocrites.

“Had I agreed with them and done what they wanted, my executive and I would have been the best thing.”

Defending his decision, he reiterated the offer made by the CPO was described as a final position. He said had they stayed the course, the workers may have come out with less or, worse, nothing.

“This is not something new. If we listened to members who said ‘we are not going with that, we would wait for more,’ then we would have gone to the court and lost. We may have come out with zero per cent or two per cent, and that sort of thing.”

He described the situation as “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

“In one breath they would have said ‘Why you didn’t sign?’ And when you do take a position – a position that requires people to make a decision – they would have said why we didn’t come to them first.”

Prentice said the union recognised what was happening with the economy, with worldwide shocks wreaking havoc on economies all over the world.

“Covid19 and the Ukraine war changed the world. When you look at the prices that are being paid for goods and services, it is tremendous, but is not created by anyone internally.”

However, he noted that while the AWU has ongoing consultations with its membership, this latest engagement with the CPO, and the results of the engagement, was shared through shop stewards.

“There are some decisions that require immediate attention. You cannot go back through every nook and cranny when you have to make a decision like this.”

He added that the union also negotiated for other things including a new job-evaluation exercise for workers, the alignment of rates of premiums and allowances enjoyed by other daily-rated workers, an increase in the rate of Cost of Living Allowance, and technical and vocational training.

But he said that his fellow union leaders scoffed at the additional provisions which came out of the offer.

“They don’t consider education for our workers because they assume they are garbage people and they don’t have a say or a place in society, but I saw beyond that. They (the workers) should be happy for themselves and their children to get an opportunity to be educated and informed, and later on be one of those individuals who would be able to lead the movement.”

At a JTUM media conference on Wednesday afternoon, the second held by union leaders to respond to the AWU’s decision, Ancel Roget, Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president, said the leaders were not surprised. He distanced the OWTU and the JTUM from the AWU.

“For quite a while we were watching him cokey-eyed. We were suspicious of him not attending meetings, but appearing elsewhere.”

He added that Prentice and the AWU’s decision to break ranks strengthened the resolve of the rest of the movement. Leaders of multiple unions, including Ceron Richards of the Prison Officers’ Association, also distanced themselves and said in no uncertain terms that their unions will not be accepting the four per cent offer.

Roget said Prentice’s decision was a betrayal of the movement and an affront to the workers Prentice represents. He said the was not fair, given the current cost of living.

“They will try to confuse you with a lot of figures, hundreds of millions and so on, but these numbers are inflated. They wouldn’t tell you that when you actually go to collect your pay, when they actually collect their pay, it will just be a $49 increase per fortnight. That is the level of grave injustice that we are talking about.”