Work at Port of Port of Spain back to normal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A cargo vessel docked at the Port of Port of Spain. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

OPERATIONS were back to normal at the Port of Port of Spain on Friday after many workers were off work on Thursday, which left trucks parked up and unable to send cargo to Tobago and caused traffic congestion in the capital city.

Both the Port Authority and Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) confirmed a return to normality to Newsday.

Asked for an update, Port Authority chairman Lyle Alexander on Friday told Newsday, “Well, back to work today, eh?

“What transpired (on Thursday) is not unusual activity involved in an industrial-agreement environment, you know. The union had a meeting, the employees went to the meeting. After the meeting, some returned to work and some didn’t.

“There was some impact yesterday, but so far today there has been…I am not aware of any significant impact today. I am not aware.”

Newsday asked his view on media reports that union head Michael Annisette had concerns about wage settlements and working conditions for port workers.

Alexander replied, “I will direct you to Mr Annisette to provide you with any clarification you need on those matters.

“Compensation issues, they have a position on that. They have been working on that for quite a while, so he will be able to give you a better clarification on the issues they have identified.

“We have grievance with the union, and the union has no grievance with us, as far as I am aware.”

Annisette told Newsday the workers were back, but certain concerns over wage talks and working conditions were unresolved.

“As I speak to you, my information, as president general of the union, is that the workers who would have taken a day to come and talk to the president general yesterday about all the issues they are facing and that are ongoing for an extended period of time – they are now back at work.

“That is my information. I have had no reports on anything different.”

Newsday asked about any discontent over wage talks and working conditions.

He said, “We would have negotiated a MOA (memorandum of agreement) with the (port) management in 2015 for the period 2014-2017 for dock workers.”

This agreed a 12 per cent hike for the period, he said.

Annisette said the MOA had included measures for many operational improvements at the port in line with international best practice.

“We did a lot of research on how we could reach the 12 per cent.”

He said the Port Authority could only refer to the Government/Chief Personnel Officer for paying back pay but not for paying dock workers’ wages.

“Having said that, we advised and the (port) management would have confirmed, ‘Yes, we did enter into this agreement with the union.’

“We would have exchanged agreements, which under the law is what you are supposed to do, which makes it legitimate.

“And the Government is now saying the Port Authority has no authority to agree with that.They have now written directing the CEO to offer 0-0-2 per cent for the said period (2014-2017) (for which) they would have signed 12 per cent.”

He said the Government’s new proposal came despite the Port Authority’s saying it had already made an agreement with the SWWTU.

“They (Government) said they don’t want to hear that! ‘The CPO is supposed to direct you,’ which we disagree with.”

Annisette declared, “Even the ILO (International Labour Organisation) would have ruled that the CPO is interfering in proper collective-bargaining principles.

“Our recognition and certification, which gives you the right to bargain, is with the Port Authority. They cannot deny that. In law we are the recognised majority union. We have certification to represent port workers, so we negotiate with the Port Authority management in keeping with the Industrial Relations Act (IRA).

“Why is the Minister of Works and Transport (Rohan Sinanan) trying to make this an issue and causing workers to get upset?”

Annisette said that in a decade-old case brought by the BIGWU (Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union) against a local bank, the ILO had crucially said the CPO cannot act in cases where statutory boards (like the Port Authority) have their own arrangements for wage negotiations.

He said there was no power in the Constitution, IRA or elsewhere for the CPO or interministerial committee to interfere with the process of negotiation.

Annisette also alleged that a port manager was violating good industrial-relations practice by making changes to occupational safety and health (OSH) practices “at the stroke of a pen” and without consulting the union. He said, “Something is wrong, and it didn’t happen overnight.”

Annisette also alleged that whenever grievances arose, management was slow to respond.

“The OSH committee today is non-functional.”

He said some port workers have not been supplied with boots, but work in sneakers. He also alleged they suffer from poor lighting, inadequate changing rooms and a dilapidated surface in their work compound, as well as a manager’s unilateral implementation of certain OSH practices.

“I understand the frustration of workers who have gone beyond the call of duty.”

On a positive note, Annisette was glad the Port Authority had regularised all of its workers, some who have had up to 15 years of service.

Newsday called Sinanan and sent questions via WhatsApp but up to press time had received no reply.