Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union (SWWTU) president Michael Annisette has proposed that Government send home 675 of the Port of Port-of-Spain’s 1,500 workers to save the state enterprise from going belly up.
The workers to face the axe will be from across the board, Annisette said, as he called on Government and the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) board to meet immediately with the union to come up with a retrenchment exercise and payment plan for the affected workers.
Annisette made the disclosure at a joint press conference in Port-of-Spain yesterday attended by Public Services Association president Watson Duke and attorney Nyree Alfonso.
Admitting it was strange for a union to call for workers to be sent home, Annisette said there was a “concerted and devious” effort by Government to undermine the union and PATT by getting rid of the port “so financiers and business elites can get what they want to get.”
“There is a sinister motive by private enterprise to huff that land on the port for their personal use,” he said.
He said there was also a deliberate attempt to collapse the seabridge.
In 2015, Annisette said the union and the then PATT board signed a Memorandum of Agreement for a comprehensive analysis of the age demographics of the port workers, retrenchment, increased productivity, restructuring work crews, a 12 per cent wage increase for the period 2014 to 2017 and to modernise the port to make it competitive within a year.
But 36 months later, he said there was a deafening silence on the proposal, which he made public, saying the port was heading down a road similar to Petrotrin, where workers might get up one morning to hear they no longer have jobs.
He said based on the age demographics of its members, they “can safely send home more than 45 per cent of the labour force… pay them their full pension benefits and give them a good golden handshake and the port within two years will be up and running.”
He said the first thing Government has to do “is cut down on the labour force immediately.”
“The Government will see benefits from what we propose within a two-year horizon,” Annisette said.
One of the major issues at the port, he said, was wages, as its 1,500 workers have been a drain on the treasury and have to be cut significantly.
“And we have agreed that we would send people home, but you will give them a golden handshake. We are willing, based on the configuration of the port, we are willing to send home more than 40 per cent of the workforce based on the exercise that we did in order to make it competitive with comparable ports,” Annisette said.
Asked if the workers are in agreement with this move, Anisette said the union made the proposal to save the port.
“If you allow it to fester everybody is going to go home,” he said.
He also stayed clear from answering if the salaries of some employees have been exorbitant.
Asked if a payment package had been worked out for the retrenched workers, Annisette said the “exercise was cost and the board had written the Government for funding. To date, the port has not received an acknowledgement.”
“It will not cost the Government billions,” he insisted.
While Annisette admitted Government has been bailing out the port, he said he believes if the port is properly managed it can turn around.
However, Duke did not support Annisette’s move, insisting at no time will he compromise with the Government to lay off workers.