PM: Labour Day recognises those who serve

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Rowley – Photo by Roger Jacob

The Prime Minister said the Labour Day holiday recognises the patriots of 1937 and all those who labour in service of others.

“We salute those who continued the struggle over the past decades for the recognition of labour, and those, at present, who continue to assert the rights of workers.”

In a release, Dr Rowley said the public holiday is TT’s way of specifically acknowledging Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler and all the patriots of that era, including Adrian Cola Rienzi, who stood side by side in the crucible against the colonial authorities.

He said the labour movement produced the household names of George Weekes, Nathaniel Crichlow, Francis Mungroo and Elma Francois. He said TT ranks among the world’s first oil producers, with the first successful oil well drilled in 1866 and commercial production beginning in 1908. Rowley said while TT was established as an oil-producing colony by the 1930’s, workers did not feel the real benefits.

“Outside the walls of the employer class, workers were forced to survive in poor health, on meagre wages, and in the squalor and poverty that was widespread.”

He said by the late 1930s, workers were organising themselves into labour unions, creating a new climate of negotiations in industrial relations, which was formalised in the 1960s with the establishment of an Industrial Court as the arbiter.

Rowley said the labour movement faces major challenges locally and worldwide.

He said many industries worldwide are either being restructured radically or closed permanently, as workers are facing competition from technological marvels.

“The world of work is not only being re-calibrated but re-invented with a surge of corporate investment by major big tech companies into generative artificial intelligence (AI). These emerging developments will have tremendous socio-economic implications for our own workplace.

“We have seen the psycho-social impact AI has had on the jobs and lives of factory workers. The impact is being revealed gradually among ‘knowledge workers’ – accountants, lawyers, engineers, architects, bankers, teachers, whose jobs are not just being reformatted, but some made redundant. The counterargument is framed that AI is unleashing new levels of productivity and greater efficiencies. Here, there is potential for great improvement alongside the possibility of frightening abuse.”

He said it is being concluded that no area in either the public or private sectors will remain untouched or immune to automation with its speed, deftness and wide reach.

“It is only a matter of time before the present guardrails in the workplace are changed and generative AI, with its enormous capacity for data, pattern recognition, and automation capabilities, forces a new mix and style of work.”

Rowley said this will be a challenge for employers, employees, the labour movement, the government, and the entire society.

“One prediction is that it will be just another fork in the road, and generative AI should be understood as a complement to human ingenuity, from which our society will benefit overall. At worst, this could easily be cold comfort to the helpless.

“The real challenge for all stakeholders – management, government, labour, is to confront these and other emerging 21st-century realities with cooperation, respect, wisdom and understanding.”

Rowley said, “As we salute the labour movement and compliment its leaders, past and present, the Government stands as a willing partner, recognising that there are no adversaries, just different perspectives all in the mix for the further development of TT.”