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Trinidad and Tobago News Forum

Blinkered movement

TODAY the nation observes the traditional Labour Day holiday with a sense of resignation over the divided nature of the movement. Efforts to bring all the country’s unions under the umbrella of NATUC have apparently fallen by the wayside and calls for unity coming at this time from the Caribbean Congress of Labour sound more routine than hopeful. Once again, the two major organisations, NATUC and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN), will hold separate rallies at Fyzabad, historic birthplace of the local labour movement. This time, NATUC’s celebrations will focus on the theme, “Decent work for all, an end to violence and crime, and action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

All three are worthwhile objectives which we expect the labour movement will help to advance in a positive way, beyond the rhetoric of today’s speakers. In a sense, these subjects are an indication of how far trade unions have developed in our country and how far the perception of themselves and their responsibilities have expanded beyond basic bread and butter issues. The double scourge of crime and AIDS require an active response from the entire society, and it is good that the labour movement is at least conscious of that need. What practical programmes or measures will follow today’s speeches at Fyzabad are left to be seen. As far as we are concerned, however, the country’s labour movement, in its outlook and aspirations, is still a relatively limited and blinkered sector, not yet fully grasping the significance of the radical and inescapable economic changes now sweeping across our region and the global community.

If Trinidad and Tobago is to survive and prosper in the competitive environment that free-trade blocks and agreements will inevitably impose on us, then our trade unions will have to expand their focus and the ambit of their responsibilities far more widely. Certainly, for one thing, they will have to respond to the imperative of increasing productivity since the TT workforce will have to compete more directly with labour in other countries in a number of critical areas. The bottom line in all of this is the fact that the productivity of our country will play a crucial part in determining the extent of our economic progress and, as a result, the actual level of employment TT can afford to maintain. In that gloomy context, it is unfortunate that Labour Day is being celebrated with actually very little to celebrate.

Indeed, the country is now anxiously caught in a deepening confrontation between the Government and teachers which threatens to seriously dislocate the operation of the nation’s schools. For parents and the general public, the excruciating factor in this dispute is the fact that while teachers are threatening to disrupt the system in their demand for increased salaries, the general standard of education in the country has deteriorated to a critical level, resulting in unacceptable levels of illiteracy and innumeracy among TT’s young people. To a significant degree, this must be attributed to the poor productivity of our teachers which reinforces the point we have just made. Enhancing productivity seems of little or no concern to the teachers’ union, although the growing percentage of illiterate youths imposes a massive and frightening burden on the country and its prospects. Can the unions turn around TT’s declining work ethic? Do they actually care about it?

Trinidad and Tobago News

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