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EDITORIAL – Dangerous police move down in T&T


luigimarshall, [email protected]

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THE GOVERNMENT of Trinidad and Tobago was yesterday faced with a problem that no administration in a democratic state would ever wish to confront: that is, the burden of having a large section of the police service resorting to industrial action disguised as “rest and reflection”.
After warnings of industrial action by ranks of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Social and Welfare Association should the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar fail to go beyond a declared five per cent pay hike, the association announced that its members would be on a “rest and reflection” exercise from yesterday.
The “rest and reflection” action is clearly a euphemism for the unilateral withholding of services but without resorting to popular industrial relations language such as “strike”. No one is, however, deceived by the reality of yesterday’s action by the association which chose to ignore the repeated pleas of the Prime Minister and the commissioner.
The association would be fully aware that while it has been pledged solidarity by leading trade unions – the Public Service Association being a notable exception, having resolved its negotiations with the government – the failure by its members to perform their duties by absenting themselves from work is a violation of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA).
Coming as it does amid spreading gun-related murders and rampant criminality, the association would know that it has taken a gamble on gaining public support. Experiences have proven that while the public may be sympathetic to expressed industrial relations grievances of the police, popular support is normally quite short, if at all, the moreso when confronted with the daily horrors of criminality as is the current situation.
The rhetoric from both sides has been unfortunate within the past week in  particular. Tension heightened when the Prime Minister made an unfortunate suggestion that the planned protest action may have been of a political nature. Problems have been aggravated by an open criticism of this claim from the trade union-based Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), one of the five-member coalition partners of the Prime Minister’s People’s Partnership government (PP).
More troubling for the government, and in particular its Minister of Labour Errol McLeod, who is associated with the MSJ, is that under the provisions of the IRA, the Minister has the power to intervene in a dispute as arisen in the current case.
Once he exercises this power to intervene and fails to secure a resolution, he could refer the matter to the Industrial Court. It is neither a good moment for the Minister of Labour nor the Police Association, and most certainly not for the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago. We can only hope that good sense prevails and dialogue replaces unilateral and illegal actions.
Strike action by the police is a dangerous development for any nation.
 

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