Roget Was Right to Call Out Employers For Criminal Exploitation of Workers

Yes! We doubt that  any sane person living in  this vibrant twin-island democratic took  CPO Daryl Dindial seriously when he recently  offered  Prison Officers  a woeful Two Percent increase for the period 2014 to 2021, to start negotiations for a new collective agreement. 

Neither did any of us buy the CPO’s limp excuse about the government’s lack of funds and  Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s usual ole talk about  us having to brace ourselves for   increases in costs of living  that are  already  upon us – as in transport, basic foodstuff and especially flour which seems to rise like yeast on a daily basis.  

As old warriors who can take insults like water off a duck’ back, Ansel Roget’s OWTU (Oilfield Workers Trade Union), would have also brushed aside the terrible Two Percent proposal kick-start like an annoying bar fly in one of those sweaty places where workers congregate  to vent their feelings.

Against this background, what we have all refused to openly  admit is that the CPO was again making use of his legally-greased  government velvet gloves to ram another unpalatable agreement down the throats of workers who really have no say in the matter and who, like some workers in the public health sector, Lever Brothers and WITCO, are also facing retrenchment even while being forced to swallow this already bitter medicine.    

So if Roget looked and sounded as if he had a goiter during his Labour Day address, he was simply reflecting the state of helplessness which employees feel after yet another  Bob Marley-like  Ambush in the night by business owners and managers who never fail to ride high on the same battered in labour hog.

In all this hue and cry, no employer or high government official  has been heard to complain about “problems” such as:

  • The handsome Pension increases given by  Parliamentarians to themselves in one of the few House debates where both sides agree unanimously;
  • Judges and other big wigs in the Court politely seeking hefty increases in salaries and allowances while  Public Services Association workers  tramples the streets in retreat from petty increases offered by their employer;

MPs can still buy some luxury cars with reduced tax exemptions – Trinidad Guardian

  • Juicy, non-taxable allowances in facilities such as :
  1. Long overseas vacations for the  whole family;
  2. Extended Study Leave;
  3. Care at the world’s most expensive hospitals;
  4. Provision for the wife or better half to travel First Class under an official title which she does not deserve;
  5. Assigning time off official duties to make use of special events not officially financed such as visits to family abroad; tickets for the  Games and short stays to resorts reserved for elite customers like Prince Andrew and Mark Epstein.  
  • Executives of TSTT have been reported to collect great benefits on the basis of new secret corporate  arrangements  and take-overs eve as thousands of workers suddenly find themselves on the breadline.
  • Hundreds of millions lost in the recent National Black out caused by a fallen tree which  a private contractor was allegedly hired to take care of in place of TTEC’s  normally designated company crew.

Better still, after the investigation and exposure of this alleged delinquent private contractor who  caused billions of losses to the country in down  time and damage to equipment,   guess who was hired to repair the broken tree and at what exorbitant cost in a move which, it is claimed, again by-passed designated T+TEC workers? 

As they like to say: Call a name and Roget will whistle!

Cases of matters seen as the employers caught bringing down their heavy hand on work have been seen far and wide, although many have not made the big news.

In most cases, it’s because of the employer’s capacity to use his deep pockets to stay in for the long haul and drag the worker into a costly legal battle which  he can easily give up on because of scare resources.

A very interesting case came into public view  when in March 5, 2022, an auto mechanic employed with the Ministry of Works and Transport was awarded close to $.5 million by the High Court after he suffered severe injuries to his face while repairing a crane at the Ministry of Agriculture in 2008.

The order was made on Tuesday by Master Martha Alexander in favour of Ignatius Samuel who claimed negligence on the part of the State that eventually resulted in him suffering the injuries.

In making the order, Master Alexander found that Samuel was entitled to a total of $427,762 in special and general damages. The sum also includes his medical fees of $15,000.

The State was also ordered to pay Samuel’s legal cost in the sum of $34,759.

Ironically, such a landmark decision  will most likely make little difference  to the fate and status of  this employee’s supervisor who can be deemed delinquent and even malicious  for handing down such an order in the particular circumstances. 

As it stands, this senior official  will not be expected to bear the brunt of any costs personally and, in this case, was not expected to suffer any personal inconvenience  and pain for causing to the employee.

Instead, we may even read in the newspapers that he or she has been promoted. 

Another  recent  tragic case where workers have suffered is the matter involving the four divers who unfortunately drowned off Paria. This case is now in Court. 

Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix has offered her analysis and insight into the Labour situation in a book launched earlier this month.

She told the media the new book – Labour Law and Good Industrial Relations: Progressive Maternity Protection in the Workplace – “examines the practice of good industrial relations and progressive discipline in the workplace”.

The latest publication  – which is the second in a series by Thomas-Felix – discusses “verbal and written warnings, suspension from work, summary dismissal, the right to be heard, and unilateral alteration of terms and conditions of employment”.

She added: “The book also explores maternity protection at work and contains a glossary of various legislation on maternity protection from regions around the world namely Africa, the Americas, the Arab World, Asia and Europe”.

As it stands therefore, it is left to be seen whether it will help Labour if exposes are brought into public attention and outcry.

These include:

  • The fallen tree that caused the  T+TEC blackout;
  • The award of close to $.5 million to Ministry of Agriculture employee Ignatius Alexander  by High Court  Master Martha Alexander. Alexander had  claimed that negligence on the part of the State  resulted in him suffering the injuries severe injuries to his face while repairing a crane at the Ministry of Agriculture , or
  •  The way in which Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix’ book is bringing key Labour issues up for public discussion.

Meanwhile, people like Roget and  JTUM now face the danger of getting legally horned by the same people they sit to negotiate with in  air-conditioned apartments where they are  given the sticky and smelly end of the stick with  insulting  Two Percent offers they just have to swallow whole with a smile.

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