SWWTU tells Gov't to send home 675 port workers

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - 13:45

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.