Port workers still causing headaches for Trinidad businesses
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, Thursday December 22, 2011 – Business people across Trinidad face another week of uncertainty and delays in getting goods in time for the last-minute Christmas rush as operations at the Point Lisas port came to a halt this week after workers refused to show yesterday (December 21).
The workers rejected the Government’s offer of a five per cent wage increase according to president of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union (SWWTU) Michael Annisette, who said the union would continue to take a principled stand to reject the Government’s five per cent wage cap imposed on its bargaining units.
A statement from the Point Lisas Port Development Corporation Ltd’s marketing and business development unit stated operations were negatively affected when workers assigned to the 7 am to 3 pm shift did not report for work. It said the areas most affected were vessel and yard operations facilitating receipt and delivery of cargo. “Management is working diligently to have normal operations resume in time for the 3 pm to 11 pm shift as the stoppage is negatively impacting several of the port’s customers, including shipping lines,” the statement said.
The shutdown came after similar action at the Port of Port-of-Spain, when workers downed tools last Saturday and also the weekend before to demonstrate against the five per cent offer. Wage negotiations are ongoing between the SWWTU and management of the Port Authority of T&T.
Annisette said the SWWTU had not accepted the Government’s offer because it was not in the best interest of workers. “When workers give their life to an industry, the management must ensure that their terminal benefits or retirement benefits are befitting of workers so they can survive and live happily thereafter,” he said.
Annisette said a letter dated September 13 from the Point Lisas management advised that it was offering a 2-1-2 per cent salary increase over the three-year collective bargaining period with the merger of Cost of Living Allowance for year one only. He claimed that was the proposal submitted to all state enterprises for daily-rated workers. “This proposal has also been rejected by the union and by the mass membership of Point Lisas to the extent that there is a loss of enthusiasm by the workers, and today we are seeing a shutdown at the Port of Point Lisas,” he said.
On the other hand, negotiations between the SWWTU and the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) seem to have reached a positive stage of development as a source close to the negotiations revealed that while the PATT put forward a proposal for the five per cent over three years with a consolidation of the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) for the first year, Annisette counter-offered with the same five per cent on wages and salaries, but with a consolidation of a single COLA figure for each of the three years.
Annisette confirmed that his counter-proposal contained "elements of the five per cent" but with a "sting in the tail".
On other industrial relations matters, he said “a potential crisis” was looming at the National Flour Mills. He also said he was advised that the union’s refusal to accept the five per cent for workers at the Institute of Marine Affairs would result in the matter being put to the Ministry of Labour as a trade dispute. “People don’t understand the sacrifices that workers make when you are working in a port and how unsafe that environment is and how many workers at Point Lisas and even in Port-of-Spain would have got injured, given the environment in which you have to work under,” Annisette said.