Port of Spain corporation, workers dispute overtime pay

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Port of Spain mayor Chinua Alleyne –

Port of Spain mayor Chinua Alleyne has said the current 2017-19 collective agreement on revised terms of overtime pay will be “scrupulously adhered” to as he took to social media to address a disagreement about overtime pay for corporation workers.

He also declared, “No intimidatory tactics shall compel the corporation to violate the collective agreement.”

His was responding after Michael Prentice, president General of the Amalgamated Workers Union, was interviewed by phone on June 3 on the Dale and Tony show on i95.5FM.

Prentice said the corporation is paying a flat rate for work done on Saturdays, Sundays and public or proclaimed holidays, which violates the agreement.

“We had a conversation, and they seem to have forgotten what is right. The corporation is violating every aspect of the collective agreement, and it must stop.”

He said workers called him around 1.30 am on June 3 to say they had had enough. In the interview, Prentice said the corporation was violating the collective agreement concerning wage payments to hourly-, daily- and weekly-rated workers, who are sanitation workers and garbage truck drivers.

But in a Facebook post on the corporation’s Facebook page on June 4, Alleyne said a 2017-2019 amended collective agreement, signed by the union on August 29, 2022, says employees required to work on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday would be guaranteed a minimum of four hours’ pay at double time and anyone working over four hours would get at least eight hours’ pay at double time.

He cited a clause in the 2008-2010 collective agreement, signed by the union on October 31, 2012, which said employees required to work on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday would be guaranteed a minimum of four hours’ pay at double time. Anyone who had to work for over two hours would get at least eight hours’ pay at double time.

He said Prentice and the union negotiated and signed the 2022 amendment, which “materially changed” the method of calculating overtime wages.

Prentice described the disagreement as a “significant problem” and said staff had stopped work.

He said maintenance workers and garbage truck drivers normally start their shifts around 2 am, but on June 3, they were at base but not working.

He warned, “They perform a critical job that should never be underestimated. They are not working, and that would potentially lead to garbage piling up.”

Alleyne said the city administration was making arrangements to ensure garbage would be collected as usual.

Prentice claimed to have documents showing the corporation’s attempts to replace current workers with contractors.

He said there had been a breach and violation of the collective agreement, which he described as an ongoing issue.

“We have filed our case in the Industrial Court, but we haven’t received a court date yet. Despite this, the corporation, led by the mayor, continues to make unilateral changes without consulting the union.”

He said the corporation’s actions affect workers, who are paid according to a schedule of wages for work completed, as determined mutually between the union and the employer.

Prentice also said an attorney had confirmed the union’s claims were correct, but the corporation continues to act as it pleases.

“Our demand is to cease the violation of the collective agreement immediately and repay the workers for the weekends they worked under these conditions.”

He said the problem wasn’t money but the people managing the corporation.

“The government and those they put in charge are causing this issue. They want to stop crime, but refuse to pay workers fairly, leading to frustration and abuse.”

In addition, he said, “We’ve seen instructions to alter work hours without consulting the union, violating the collective agreement. This has cost the corporation money and respect. People in high office are unresponsive, and this disrespect towards workers cannot continue.”

In addition, he said, “There are no parts or chemicals to sanitise the trucks, creating health and safety issues. We’ve been pleading for these problems to be fixed.”

He ended by apologising to the public for the inconvenience caused by the garbage piling up, but stressed that workers deserve respect and fair treatment.

“Our demands are clear: cease violations immediately, reverse unauthorised orders and call a meeting if necessary. We will not allow this to continue. This gross disrespect and disregard for the workers of the Port of Spain Corporation must end.”

Newsday tried contacting Alleyne on June 5, by phone and WhatsApp to ask whether work at the corporation has been affected since Prentice’s claims.