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The Trade Union Movement Must Launch a Campaign To Organise Minimum Wage Workers

The twenty-first century has seen the Trade Union Movement in Trinidad and Tobago consistently under attack, severely criticized and victimized by the ruling economic and political elites.

The thousands of sugar workers were the first group of organised workers this century to suffer mass retrenchment. This, of course, has had the effect of severely weakening a once powerful union.

The Unions in petroleum and petrochemical industries have seen a steady decline in their workforce Thousands of direct and indirect Petrotrin workers have been thrown on the breadline as have hundreds of workers at Arcelor Mittal and hundreds at TSTT.

Jobs are disappearing at an accelerated rate in the light and heavy manufacturing industry. Manufacturing enterprises throughout the East-West corridor have been shedding jobs and capital is being shifted into warehousing and distribution. Unilever is a stark example.

The Ports are being privatized which will result in retrenchment. 2,500 workers are earmarked for retrenchment at WASA. The Public Service and the Regional Health Authorities are now places of low-paid, fixed term contract workers. The State Sector is in decline and dying quickly. They are coming at National Petroleum, Trinidad Lake Asphalt, the regional and City corporations, MTS, PTSC, TTEC and other unionised state sector enterprises.

Capitalism has acquired free rein and the changing composition of the working class has reduced the unionised workforce drastically. Best guesstimates suggest that twelve percent or less of the workforce may be union members. This is borne out by the fact that 90% or more of matters that come before the Industrial Court do not involve members of recognised majority unions.

There are hundreds of thousands of workers in the service sector, retail stores, fast food joints, the hospitality sector and the private security sector who are not unionised and have no tradition of organised struggle.

This has resulted in workers being super-exploited, with atrocious industrial relations practices becoming the norm. Fixed term contracts are the order of the day. The casualization of labour is a growing trend and companies are ducking out of paying NIS and government taxes by deeming workers to be independent contractors.

Extreme exploitation of minimum wage and sub-minimum wage workers is the norm. Sub-minimum workers are denied the legal provisions of the schedule of minimum wages and conditions. Domestic workers are denied the entitlements of other workers. Worst of all are the conditions in the private security industry, particularly so for non-precepted security personnel.

The Estate Police Association is doing a great job of protecting, defending and advancing the interests of precepted officers, but are restricted by law from representing non-precepted officers.

In a majority of cases in the private security industry conditions include:

The future of the trade union movement lies in organising these hundreds of thousands of minimum and sub-minimum wage workers. The trade union federations, JTUM, NATUC and FITUN and individual unions must urgently devise a campaign to organise these workers and launch a battle to ensure that they enjoy as decent conditions of work as is possible under a capitalist system.

In the words of Cecil Paul: “We, in the labour Movement, must ensure working people do not end up weak, exploited and in a crime-ridden society where both labour and lives are cheap and in steady regression, sinking more and more into a hell-hole for the dispossessed.”

Failure to do so will result in the relevance of the trade union movement becoming a faint memory in the minds of working people.

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