Natuc on AWU accepting 4%: We were betrayed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Natuc president James Lambert at a news conference on May 20. –

The National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) has called the Amalgamated Workers Union’s (AWU) acceptance of the Chief Personnel Officer’s four per cent wage increase offer a betrayal of biblical proportions.

Union representatives gathered at the NATUC conference centre on Henry Street, Port of Spain, on Tuesday to address AWU’s acceptance of the offer on Monday.

NATUC president James Lambert said he was disappointed.

“As NATUC president, we had met with the AWU and agreed that we will go through the negotiation collectively.”

He said Michael Prentice, AWU’s president-general, “agreed that I will lead negotiations.”

But, Lambert said he was not surprised.

“It reminds me immediately of Judas when he betrayed Christ. Judas betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver, but our brother – Amalgamated – betrayed us for four pieces of silver. So even Judas had gotten more than what he received.

“Prentice, you have betrayed us. I remember when Judas realised what he had done, he hanged himself. You don’t do that to workers who have placed you in a position to see about their affairs.”

Contractors and General Workers Union president Ermine De Bique-Meade said, “I want to make it absolutely, abundantly clear, that we are not in agreement with our brother from the Port of Spain corporation (Prentice).

“All along, the three union leaders of daily-paid workers in TT were holding discussions on the way forward. Every time we met with the CPO, we’d meet and strategise for the next meeting.

“At the last meeting, the three presidents agreed that we aren’t prepared to accept the four per cent in no form or fashion.”

Moreover, she added, “As a responsible union we were looking for something for the retireees.”

De Bique-Meade said she got a call on Monday morning from Prentice who wanted to speak to her before she got the news “second-hand.”

She said she advised him to hold his hand and they agreed on an emergency meeting at 5 pm. But, on that same Monday, the CPO called and offered a one-time payment of $4,000 to pensioners.

“How they did not indicate that before? Because they were aware that Prentice had agreed to sign the collective agreement.”

De Bique-Meade said between 4-4.30 pm, the AWU committed the act of betrayal. But, she insisted it made the movement more resilient.

“How can a president that represents workers sign a document accepting $4.70 over a six-year period? Was he enticed by something? That is the question my membership asks.”

She said what Prentice did “goes back to slavery days, when they would target one or two, and they would go out there and sell their brothers and sisters. Because they have sold out the daily-paid workers.”

Explaining reasons for rejecting the offer, De Bique-Meade said, “It’s not the PNM who face the grocery, and it’s not the PNM who face your utility bill.

“For far too long people feel the daily-paid workers cannot add.

“The lowest daily-paid worker is presently getting $235 a day. That was the increase they got for 2013. What is being offered for the lowest class is a $4.70 increase. From 2013-2016, $239.70 is being offered.”

She said after the last negotiation with the CPO, the government stalled at four per cent. The unions recommended, “If government cannot pay four per cent in cash, then they should look at alternative ways like bonds to pay the workers.”

She said the CPO, in reply, indicated paying workers in bonds would not be beneficial to workers but to financial institutions.