Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2017, 13:52 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Trinidad and Tobago

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Trinidad and Tobago, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 14 December 2017]
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: 1,400,000
Capital: Port-of-Spain
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade unions faced resistance when carrying out legitimate union activities. Two attempts to decertify unions were made by public sector employers, and a skirmish followed a picketing outside the seat of Parliament. The term "essential services" was broadly applied to exclude workers from union organising. The right to strike is restricted.

Trade union rights in law

Although basic trade union rights are guaranteed, a number of excessive restrictions apply. The 1972 Industrial Relations Act allows workers to form or join unions of their own choosing. The right to collective bargaining is also guaranteed, but the law only provides for mandatory recognition of a trade union when it represents 51% or more of the workers in a specified bargaining unit. Furthermore, all collective agreements must be for a maximum of five years and a minimum of three years, which makes it almost impossible for workers on short-term contracts to be covered by such agreements.

While the right to strike is recognised – except for members of the teaching service and employees of the Central Bank – it is coupled with many restrictions. Strikes can be prohibited where the government considers that the national interest is threatened, or at the request of one party provided that the strike is not declared by a majority union. Also, lawful strikes can only be called over unresolved "interest" disputes, i.e. concerning the formulation of terms and conditions of employment. All strikes are banned in "essential services", the list of which exceeds the ILO definition by including, for example, the public school bus service.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The constitutional reform initiated in 2007 continued, with the current Prime Minister purportedly aiming to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one. Chinese migrant workers made the headlines as they protested against abuse by their contractor, the Beijing Liujan Construction Company, which had failed to pay them for two months' work and had held them in inhumane working and living conditions. The country also hosted the fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009. Violent crimes continued to predominate.

Organising right has limited scope: Although the law states that workers can form and join trade unions, in practice everyone working in 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% of the workforce are union members. The problems with obtaining union recognition continued owing to the slow handling of cases by the state.

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.

Union decertification attempts: Two separate incidents during the summer led the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) and the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) to approach the Industrial Court to seek the decertification of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) and the Transport and Industrial Workers' Union (TIWU), respectively. The first incident involved a clash between CWU officials, workers and security guards at the TSTT house on July 7, after which 71 workers were suspended by the company. The other concerned 13 TIWU bus drivers' refusal to work on September 14 because of a mosquito infestation at the PTSC compound and the danger of contracting a dengue virus. The government agencies promised to abandon their decertification endeavours after growing national discontent.

Police repression, union leader arrested in picket: Trade union leader David Abdullah of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions was arrested and several people were injured in a picket on December 18th. The around 100 protesters had gathered outside the seat of Parliament to protest against a proposed property tax bill. The police abruptly ended the picket and beat the protesters with batons, as the leaders refused to "tone it down" and dissolve the picket. Abdullah was charged with "obstructing free passageway", but was released from jail one hour later on $500 bail. The Acting Police Commissioner later admitted that the police officers may have used excessive force during the fracas.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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