Labour leaders demand wage hike at May Day rally

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of JTUM during May Day rally in San Fernando on April 30. – AYANNA KINSALE

AT their first May Day march and rally in San Fernando in two years, members of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) laid down a series of demands to the Government and members of the business community.

The march and rally was not held over the last two years due to the covid19 pandemic and related public health regulations which limited the size of public gatherings

The demands issued by JTUM included the setttlement of all outstanding collective agreements, the removal of increased fuel prices that were implemented on April 19, an increase in the minimum wage and the resignation of Public Utlities Minister Marvin Gonzales because of thereport of the Cabinet-appointed committee to investigate the Trinidad wide blackout on February 16.

In making these demands at the end of the rally at Harris Promenade, JTUM president and Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) president-general declared to hundreds of cheering workers, “Massa day done! Our money doesn’t sleep out! We want our money!” Reiterating claims that the incumbent PNM administration is the most corrupt government in TT’s history and an “one per cent” administration, Roget agreed with Guyana Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo’s recent comments about TT falling apart. “TT is not falling apart. TT has fallen apart.

Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) members during the May Day rally in San Fernando on April 30. – AYANNA KINSALE

Roget said, “By our actions today. We want to make a few demands. We are putting it out from now.”These demands, he promised, will be reinforced and repeated in Fyzabad on June 19 (Labour Day).

Roget condemned multinational and other large companies who reported profits before and during the pandemic. “We today call for the settlement, the immediate settlement of all negotiations that are outstanding. Increase in the salaries for all of those workers.”

He demanded an increase in the minimum wage from its current level of $17.50 per hour. “Indeed. Today we call for a living. A proper living wage. So they can put food on the table.”

Roget called for “the reversal, the removal of that unfair, unjust fuel price increase.” On deliberations between unions, Government and the National Insurance Board about increasing minimum retirement age from 60 to 65, Roget told workers who reach 60 to get their national insurance.

“We paid our money and when the time comes, we demand our NIS (National Insurance System) benefits.”

In calling for Gonzales’ resignation, Roget scoffed at his statement that a large falling fungus-infected Palmiste tree was responsible for the blackout.”What fools do these people think we are? We call for the resignation of that minister of public utlities.”

Previously, Roget claimed the blackout was caused by a tree falling on two power lines. In its submission to the committee, the OWTU claimed that T&TEC was using inexperienced contractors in its vegetation management and line clearing division.

Roget also accused the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Colm Imbert of supporting “the rich getting richer and the ever widening of the gap between the have’s and the have nots.

An Aviation Communication and Allied Workers’ Union representative during the May Day rally, Coffee Street, San Fernando on April 30. – AYANNA KINSALE

Claiming that some police officers may be spying on members of the labour movement, Roget said JTUM had nothing to fear because “what was say privately, we say publicly.”

Addressing workers earlier in the day at the OWTU’s Paramount Building office in San Fernando, Abdulah saidt he battle lines drawn between those on the one hand who wish to status quo to remain intact and, those on the other hand, who are challenging the status quo and who are committed to bring about a fundamental change in TT.

Former Farmers Union president Shiraz Khan accused Government of continuing to neglect agriculture. Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP) activist David Welch claimed, “There is no democracy in this country.”