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by G. Alleyne

Scores of workers are being and will continue to be displaced as a result of advancing technology and globalisation. Because of this, the country’s trade union leaders, rather than threaten industry shutdowns when jobs are at risk, should instead be insisting on retraining opportunities for workers they represent. They should be noting trends in the international market place and develop strategies to deal with them in a positive rather than combative manner. The accent must be on the long term view and for labour to appreciate that constantly updated technology, globalisation and the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) breaking down of tariff barriers have redefined not only workers’ but a country’s survival.

The emphasis must be on training and retraining, and trade unions should insist that training should not begin on the job but that Government should place greater stress on the country’s young people acquiring vocational skills not simply at the secondary level but at the tertiary level as well. Admittedly, Government by its plan to open shortly the University of Trinidad and Tobago with wide ranging courses of study and its expansion of areas of study at the Cipriani Labour College understands the nation’s need for a rapid development of skills. But Trinidad and Tobago is way behind the developed nations and several of the developing nations as well.

In turn, our goods and services are under serious challenge in the more significant of our traditional markets, for example the United States of America and the Caribbean Community of Nations (CARICOM). And even worse, they are being challenged in our domestic market as well. The United States has set up walls against our (and other countries’) access of agricultural produce and small manufactures to US markets.

In addition, even as the US has hastily assembled standards for entry into its home market, some of its manufacturers flood Trinidad and Tobago with goods, including pharmaceuticals, that are not allowed to be sold in the United States. Trinidad and Tobago’s manufacturers and producers have to pay particular attention to the quality and costs of their goods and services both for their home market and for export. When some trade union leaders insist on the misguided philosophy of “Not a man must go”, even when market realities demand otherwise, they create a situation in which unnecessary costs are added to the finished products. And in all too many cases as well to the products of industries which use their services. The principle also applies to wages.

Importers of our goods and services, their distributors, the various retail outlets and the customers at these outlets are not concerned with arguments by Trinidad and Tobago trade union leaders that “Not a man must go”, or that if one set of workers should receive a 15 per cent wage and/or salary hike, then all must obtain similar wage and/or salary increases. What will determine whether or not they import etc., our goods and services, all other things being equal, will be the cost of the products. This can be further aggravated, when a company enjoying a monopoly position sets rates for its services which reflect the monopoly it enjoys as well as it’s being overstaffed.

In turn, once there is an end to its monopoly a critical factor which will impact adversely on its ability to be competitive will be the relatively high number of workers seen to be redundant. I refer to the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT). TSTT’s relatively high rates, for example for overseas calls which can impact on the cost of both exports and imports. Government which has a 51 per cent shareholding in TSTT has dragged its proverbial feet on deregulation for more than a decade. When the telecommunications sector is liberalised, by the earliest February of next year, perhaps even later, TSTT will face not only massive competition, but the problem of overstaffing.

It is estimated that the telecommunications company is overstaffed by at least 700 workers, and will need to shed this ‘baggage’ in order to be competitive. There will be opposition to this, but TSTT has already committed itself to deregulation and has gone ahead with the acquisition of the latest technology with its planned expansion programme. But TSTT is only one case of overstaffing, where there is resistance to trimming of staff to realistic levels. There are others, the majority of them in areas where Government is the sole owner or has a not insubstantial interest.

The losers, in case a combined trade union opposition is able to delay the retrenching of redundant workers and as in the case of the eventual liberalising of the telecommunications sector, will be not only private but business customers. Ultimately, there will be an adverse domino effect. But as I wrote earlier there are instances in which Government (read the taxpayer) is the whole or substantial owner. The difference being that the taxpayer is the loser, as his/her taxes have to subsidise overstaffing and all that flows from it and is an expensive ignoring of today’s realities.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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