Union leader defends accepting T&T gov’t wage offer
Port of Spain – President of the Amalgamated Workers Union (AWU), Michael Prentice said he was described as a “Judas” and a leading member of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) after the union accepted a four per cent wage increase offer from the Trinidad & Tobago government.
A statement from the office of the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) said late on Monday that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) had been signed for the periods 2014-2016 and 2017-2019.
“We did not get up one morning and wave a magic wand and get a position,” said Prentice, adding “…Yes, we have accepted the four per cent.”
The two parties agreed among other matters to a new job evaluation exercise for workers, the alignment of rates of premiums and allowances enjoyed by other daily-rated workers, and an increase of those rates, an increase in the rate of cost-of-living allowance (COLA), the provision of technical and vocational training, and a one-time buyout for retirees in 2014 and 2015 at TT $4,000 (US $590) a retiree.
But the decision by the AWU to accept the four per cent wage offer comes against the backdrop of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and its members rejecting the offer, while staging street protests in support of a higher figure.
Apart from the JTUM, the Police Service Social and Welfare Association (PSSWA), the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), and the Public Services Association (PSA) are among the trade unions that have rejected the CPO’s four per cent offer.
Prentice said on local radio that following his decision to sign on behalf of his union, whose membership includes funeral attendants and drivers, cooks and counter-staff from at least one fast-food outlet, as well as clerks and cleaners at malls in the capital, said he expected other trade unions to follow his lead.
“We were not the first and we will not be the last and the push back has already started…and I am not afraid to go public and say exactly what occurred,” Prentice said.
“I was asked for an emergency meeting (of the trade unions) … and all the interest at that meeting was … did you sign or not and I said, ‘Yes, comrades, I signed’.
“They tried to raise inducements, they tried to raise and say negative things, some people disrespected the halls of the trade union office, I listened, I allowed them, and they finally got up and leave.”
But Prentice said his union was prepared to stand alone, and he was referred to as a “Judas” and a general council member of the governing PNM during the meeting with the trade unions at which the JTUM president Ancel Roget was present.
“This is not the first time we have been alone and maybe for a long time we are going to be alone again,” he said. “The fact of the matter, at the end of the day, we represent workers in an industry that is very, very thankless, it has no gratitude and appreciation…
“Somebody has to take an interest in these workers who are continually being neglected, ignored and bypassed.
“Imagine in the 21st Century high profile people are scoffing at the fact that the trade union took a decision to do something in the interest of education and technical training, and still people scoff at that yesterday.”
Prentice said that his union put on the negotiating table proposals for the period 2020-22.
“We felt we would not allow the opportunity to go by without doing what is in the best interest of the membership by taking this proactive approach,” he said.
“We simply cannot continue as trade unionists, we pick up our marbles and go when things don’t go our way … if that was in 1937, we must remember what happened in 1937, but we must not live in 1937 and a lot of my colleagues apparently seem to be ignoring the fact that we are in 2022.”