The trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago says it is intent on not backing away from confrontation with the government.
Wages and conditions of work are at the core of the dispute between the government and the joint unions who are insisting that their 50,000 members are “living on starvation wages”. They are demanding a 15 per cent wage hike; the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is offering 5 per cent.
Finance Minister Winston Dookeran says the government’s offer, when combined with a cost of living allowance and increased health benefits, amounts to “a just and fair offer and one in keeping with the state of the economy.”
Those two positions have fuelled several large and militant demonstrations in the capital city, Port of Spain, by the country’s major trade unions.
They are supporting the Public Services Association, which is at the forefront of the dispute.
No fewer than five days of resistance during which many public servants have stayed away from work, points to a potentially explosive industrial relations climate.
“You cannot have a situation in a country where inflation has risen to more than 34 per cent and a Government is offering you 5 per cent,” said president of the National Trade Union Centre, Michael Annisette.
He was at the time addressing thousands of workers out on the streets this week.
Ancil Roget, president general of the traditionally militant Oilfields Workers Union, has demanded that the government borrow money to pay the public servants. The unions have joined with the PSA against the 5 per cent to prevent it from becoming the benchmark figure for all industrial agreements.
All this is happening against the background of perhaps the most militant trade union leader of the last 15 years, Errol McLeod, once president general of the OWTU, now sitting in the seat of Minister of Labour.