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Unions ready for nationwide strike

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PORT-OF-SPAIN – Trade union leaders on Thursday warned Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to prepare for a nationwide strike accusing her administration of “contradiction” as well as “deception” in dealing with the issue of a five per cent cap for wage negotiations for public workers in Trinidad and Tobago.
Leaders of the 19 trade unions, who met with the prime minister earlier this week to discuss the cap issue, told a news conference that a series of meetings with workers across the country would begin today in preparation for the nationwide strike which they maintain would come “like a thief in the night”.
“We did not say that there was going to be a national strike after the meeting with the prime minister, we made careful to continue to remind the country about that. What we did say however is that it will come like a thief in the night,” said the president general of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Ancel Roget, the main spokesman for the joint trade union movement.
He dismissed those “washed-up trade unionists” who disagreed with the strategies being undertaken by the labour movement and also issued a warning to  Persad-Bissessar that she was being “set up by a cabal” of people who were among her close advisors.
Roget called on the government to indicate whether or not it had “secretly” signed agreements with international agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that would prevent it from removing the five per cent wage cap.
Roget said that the discussions would take place with workers in various essential services including the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) as well as with public servants “who are dissatisfied with the five per cent agreement” reached between their union – the Public Service Association (PSA) – and the government.
He told reporters that the existing PSA executive, including its president Watson Duke, would not be allowed “to stop this labour movement from talking directly with the workers”.
The unions have also indicated that they would be staging public meetings, beginning in Arima, east of here early next month, and “covering every other community in the country” to sensitise workers and the general public on the need for the nationwide strike.
When she emerged from the meeting on Tuesday evening, Persad-Bissessar said she was confident that her administration had been able to avert the nationwide strike, even as she acknowledged that there might be “limited’ strikes in the coming days.
She said she had reminded the trade unions that her administration had never placed a cap on the negotiations.
 “I repeated to them there is no five per cent cap, they should go back to the bargaining table and start from fresh because they were of the view that the process of bargaining had been contaminated in some way by this five per cent cap . . . and therefore let us start . . . with a clean slate.
“Start from zero and negotiate, the slate is clean, you start from zero and negotiate upwards, there is no five per cent cap,” she added.
But she later acknowledged that “the five per cent is not resolved” noting that at the end of the meeting “we went back to square one”.
“They asked me about the five per cent cap and at that point in the meeting they wanted me to actually negotiate . . . and I said I cannot negotiate and you will have to negotiate with your employers. (CMC)