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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Trinidad and Tobago

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Trinidad and Tobago, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca6828.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,300,000
Capital: Port-of-Spain
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The restrictions on strikes remained in place and the State occasionally intervened to stop them. A teachers' association went on strike in September to get some progress in its collective bargaining with the State, but the Minister of Education threatened legal action against the union. Labour law prevents domestics, gardeners and chauffeurs from joining trade unions. The government continued to refuse to amend the labour legislation.

Trade union rights in law

The 1972 Industrial Relations Act (IRA) allows workers to form or join unions of their own choosing and establishes the right of collective bargaining. The law also provides for the mandatory recognition of a trade union when it represents 51 percent or more of the workers in a specified bargaining unit, once this has been verified by the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board (R.R.C.B). Teachers and public servants are excluded from the scope of the Act but are covered by separate legislation.

The law provides for the compulsory reinstatement of any workers sacked for their union activities as well as financial compensation.

Heavy limitations on the right to strike: Industrial action is strictly regulated by the IRA, which stipulates that strikes may only be over unresolved "interest" disputes, i.e., concerning the formulation of terms and conditions of employment. Strikes are banned in essential services, which are too broadly defined by ILO standards, including, for example, the public school bus service. Strikes can also be prohibited at the request of one party if they are not declared by a majority union or when the government considers that the national interest is threatened. There is a penalty of up to 18 months' imprisonment.

Members of the teaching service and employees of the Central Bank are prohibited from taking industrial action; such action being subject to a penalty of up to 18 months' imprisonment.

Collective bargaining restricted: To obtain bargaining rights, a union must have the support of an absolute majority of workers. Furthermore, collective agreements must be for a maximum of five years and a minimum of three years, making it almost impossible for workers on short-term contracts to be covered by such agreements.

EPZs: The same labour laws apply in the export processing zones as in the rest of the country.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: On 5 November elections were held in relatively calm conditions. The winner was the National People's Movement (Movimiento Nacional Popular). During the year there was a lot of social unrest with demonstrations to protest against police abuse of their authority, which even included assassinations. Most assassinations carried out by the police go unpunished.

Organising right has a limited scope: Although the law states that workers can form and join trade unions, in practice everyone working in the so-called "essential services", which include domestic workers, drivers, gardeners and others, are not recognised as workers and so cannot legally join unions. It is estimated that just 20 percent of the workforce are union members.

The problems with obtaining union recognition continued owing to the slow handling of cases by the state. The unions continued to demand a revision of the legislation on trade union rights, but their requests were ignored.

Strike restrictions continue to hit workers: Despite the many formalities and bans on strikes, a number were held during the year in various sectors. In some cases the state intervened to stop the strike by penalising the workers.

Collective bargaining hampered: Many unions had their collective bargaining blocked by employers' delaying tactics. The state, too, repeatedly refused to negotiate collective agreements with public sector unions.

Government unwilling to amend labour law: The government has continued to refuse to amend its legislation on essential services and collective bargaining to bring it into line, at least, with ILO Conventions.

Minister of Education threatens striking teachers: In the second week of September, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) called a strike in protest at the repeated delays by the state in the 2005-2008 collective bargaining round. One week before the strike, the union received threats from the Minister of Education himself, who said he would file legal proceedings against those teachers who went ahead with the strike.

WASA employees get a collective agreement after a 16-month battle: The National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) reported that its members working for the Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) struggled for 16 months to secure a collective agreement providing for an increase in their minimum wage and compensation for the rise in the cost of living. The agreement was finalised in October. According to representatives of the union, the delays were due essentially to the company's refusal to negotiate and to the fact that existing legislation impedes bargaining processes.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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