Port of Spain dock workers down tools, demand 12% pay increase

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Trucks loaded with cargo park along Wrightson Road and Dock Road in Port of Spain, as they await embark instructions to travel across the sea-bridge on Thursday. – ROGER JACOB

FRUSTRATED workers at the Port of Port of Spain stopped work in protest as they demanded implementation of what they claimed was an already-agreed-upon 12 per cent increase in salary on Thursday morning.

The dock workers staged their demonstration at the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union Hall on Wrightson Road.

Speaking to Newsday by phone later Thursday, National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) general secretary Michael Annisette explained the workers had felt the need to voice their concerns about management’s failure to address crucial issues affecting them. He said there was a multitude of grievances, spanning from health-and-safety concerns to unresolved wage disputes.

Annisette said there was a growing sentiment of disaffection and frustration among workers, stemming from the inaction of management.

Annisette cited the inadequacy of safety measures as a pressing issue, saying workers often lacked essential safety gear – such as boots – and were required to operate vehicles in hazardous conditions.

He said there had been reports about the poor condition of equipment – including trucks with worn-out tyres – posing substantial risks to the safety and well-being of workers.

Annisette said management needed to address the concerns promptly, particularly with regard to implementing comprehensive health and safety protocols and ensuring the provision of essential equipment to safeguard workers.

Moreover, Annisette said there was an ongoing wage dispute because of the failure to implement a previously agreed-upon 12 per cent wage increase for the 2014-2017 period.

He said, despite prior agreements between port management and the union, workers were informed of a proposed two per cent increase for the same period. That proposal has been deemed unacceptable and insulting by the union.

Annisette criticised the government’s handling of wage negotiations, pointing out disparities between wage increases for government employees and those in the private sector.

He said there was a critical need for equitable treatment of workers and advocated for fair wages that accurately reflected the cost of living and inflation.

“The government must recognise the collective bargaining process and the covid19 pandemic, where workers were out on a 24/7 basis ensuring the country received goods and services without which the economy would have come to a standstill. And they (workers) are of the view that they are not recognised or paid for the role they play within the economy.”

Annisette acknowledged recent efforts by the Port Authority to address some health and safety concerns, including the regularisation of workers’ employment status, but added, “There are workers working for years without a contract, and it is time they are given proper contracts and job security.”

Annisette also hinted at the possibility of further protest if dock workers grievances remained unaddressed.

“I have attempted to talk to the workers and to let better sense prevail, but the workers are in an emotional and angry mood over what they determine to be the insensitivity and disrespect that continue to be shown to dock workers by the government.”

He called on the government and port management to prioritise the safety and welfare of workers and honour previous agreements to resolve ongoing disputes.

Newsday spoke to Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan on Thursday who said he was unaware of the protest at the port and could not comment.