Labor Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix yesterday encouraged union leaders to reconsider their membership of the National Tripartite Advisory Council, stressing the importance of collaboration between government, employers and unions.
His sentiments were expressed during the special session of the Labor Court to mark the opening of the 2022-2023 legislature in Port of Spain yesterday.
Thomas-Félix said, “Let us now consider the burning issue in the room, tripartism and the Trinidad and Tobago National Tripartite Advisory Council. The tripartite mechanism, which is adopted by countries around the world, regardless of their legal system, is an extremely important and useful tool to help solve the myriad problems in the world of work.
“Through this mechanism, representatives of workers, employers and government each have an equal voice in decision-making…Last year, I said that it was common knowledge that the National Confederation of unions had withdrawn from the National Tripartite Advisory Council for what they consider to be good reason. However, this is the time in our nation’s history when there is a need for the workforce to be guided by the decisions of the tripartite leaders,” she said.
Ms. Thomas-Félix said she had received a range of views from employer and union representatives on the various issues that would need to be addressed and ironed out before the National Tripartite Advisory Council could convene and function effectively.
“From all accounts, it appears that the trust continues to be the uninvited and absent guest at the table. We must not ignore the value of tripartite meetings and the importance of having an effective national tripartite council…I am sincerely convinced that the problems that currently exist between the social partners who are members of the National Tripartite Consultative Council, although very worrying, are not insurmountable,” she said.
The President of the Labor Court said from where she sits, what is needed is an understanding of how a national tripartite advisory council works, what its functions are and an appreciation of the important role such an organization can play in labor market development.
“I therefore reiterate my call for constructive social dialogue between the tripartite partners with a view to strengthening the labor market and the workforce. It is imperative that the tripartite partners, who are in fact the leaders of the world of work, put aside their differences and have that preliminary meeting and the much needed “elephant in the room” discussion with a view to resolving differences, to listen and understand the different perspectives and agree on a structure of a viable working methodology at the level of the National Tripartite Advisory Council,” she added.
Addressing the growing number of protests lately, many of which center on working conditions, job losses, bargaining and social ills, she said it was in the nation’s interest that the tripartite partners meet, have constructive discussions and assume their respective roles in tackling burning issues.
She also encouraged genuine and ongoing two-way discussions, especially those related to changes in working arrangements since the pandemic.
Although unions and employers have taken issues to the labor court for various reasons over the past two years, she said some of these issues clearly could have been resolved through bilateral discussions.
“Remember that a major part of the grievance process is dialogue, therefore the starting point should always be two-way discussions with the intention of resolving issues. There is much to be gained when parties meet and solve their problems without a third party The absence of a real social dialogue on the transformations and adjustments of the world of work, since the pandemic, by the main actors of the country is attested by the significant number of trade disputes , Industrial Relations Offenses (IRO) and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) cases that have been filed with the Labor Court in the past two years,” she said. .
Furthermore, she stated that collective bargaining is the only progressive way to achieve sustainable development and reach consensus on the new way of working and the future of work.
Giving a summary of this high number of cases for the period from September 15, 2021 to September 14, 2022, Thomas-Félix revealed that 1099 new cases were filed with the Conseil des prud’hommes, i.e. 133 cases more than for the same period last year.