4 – Systematic violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

Trinidad and Tobago

The ITUC affiliates in Trinidad and Tobago are the All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union (ATGWTU) and the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago (NATUC).

Trinidad and Tobago ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1963 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 1963.

In practice

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Sedition charge against union leader sparks debate about freedom of speech in Trinidad and Tobago05-11-2019

On 26 August 2019, Watson Duke, president of Trinidad and Tobago’s Public Services Association (PSA) and the minority leader of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), was charged with seditious intent under section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act and arrested for statements he made in a speech back in 2018. At the time, there were rumours of possible mass retrenchment at public companies which included the national water company, WASA.   
The fact that the Sedition Act originates from laws made under the British colonial government has caused many to question whether it impinges upon citizens’ freedom of speech. Designed to protect against rebellion against the state’s authority by punishing insurrectionary acts or declarations and suppressing iconoclastic publications, the Sedition Act remained in place even after the country became independent from Great Britain in 1962 and was in fact amended several times to criminalise any person or publication deemed to be carrying out seditious acts or communicating with seditious intent. 
This is not the first time that the Act has been carried out in recent years. After Duke was released from police custody on 31 August — Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence Day — his attorney said that his client may well join others in challenging the act. 
On 5 September 2019, the general secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc), Michael Annisette, called on Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to repeal the Sedition Act and hand-delivered to Al-Rawi’s ministry a letter containing the request. Other unions involved were the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, Transport and Industrial Workers Trade Union, PSA, National Union of Government and Federated Workers, and the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Union. 
Annisette said the big question is why the government of an independent country, which has suffered under the colonial yoke, would retain a law specially designed for the purpose of stifling the free expression of trade union movement and the working class.

State telecom company plans anti-union dismissals and forcibly ejects union leader13-12-2018

On 16 November, the state telecommunications company TSTT announced plans to terminate 503 workers, mostly members of the majority union, the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU). In December 2018, the company cut 51 more jobs, at executive level, and redeployed the bosses to other departments within the company. According to the management, the dismissals are part of the TSTT’s strategy to modernise and restructure the company, to cut staff costs and to increase its profits and competitiveness on the market. In December 2018, the general secretary of the CWU, Clyde Elder, was forcibly ejected from the company’s premises after trying to meet with affiliated workers to provide them with advice. The union leader had to receive medical attention. The company, meanwhile, said that he should have asked for permission 72 hours in advance to be able to hold a meeting on its premises.

Precarious working conditions for lifeguards affiliated to the NUGFW17-08-2018

On 16 August 2018, lifeguards affiliated to the National Union of General and Federated Workers (NUGFW) staged a protest in front of the National Security Ministry to denounce the precarious working conditions of the country’s lifeguards. Trinidad and Tobago has just 115 lifeguards, insufficient to cover the island’s nine main beaches, working without adequate equipment to deal with emergencies. The president general of the union pointed out that lifeguards had been experiencing serious problems since being placed under the administration of the Security Ministry, where their work is considered to be of minor importance and its officials refuse to meet with their union, cancel their annual meetings without prior notice and lack the technical and financial resources required to meet the sector’s needs.

UHSWU denounces insanitary conditions at Point Fortin hospital28-07-2018

On 11 August 2018, workers from the Unified Health Sector Workers’ Union threatened to shut down the kitchen at the Point Fortin hospital, which did not meet the minimum sanitary conditions required. The workers had, for almost a year, been asking the hospital management to take measures to stop birds, insects and even venomous snakes from invading the premises, and to repair the buildings, some of which are on the point of collapse. They pointed out that the lives and safety of patients and workers were at permanent risk.

State-owned oil company Petrotrin refuses to negotiate with union 15-07-2018

On 3 April 2018, the state-owned oil company Petrotrin signed an agreement with the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), committing to hold at least one meeting a month with the union’s executive, to discuss, review, monitor and ensure the progress of the working committees at the company. The two parties also agreed to engage in consultations on issues of governance, in light of the growing economic losses and the reports of corruption involving public money. On 15 July 2018, the workers downed tools and held a day of protest over the company’s failure to hold the monthly meetings and to contact the union to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the company’s operations. At the same time, the company announced plans to cut jobs to help overcome its financial difficulties.

Anti-union discrimination30-10-2013

On 22 October 2013, the National Petroleum Marketing Company Limited (NP) dismissed 68 employees including 12 union officers alleging that the workers participated in an “illegal work stoppage” at the head offices in Sea Lots, Port-of-Spain, in August. Indeed, the workers had used their right to refuse to work under unsafe conditions as stipulated under article 15 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (2004) from 13-15 August 2013. First, the workers were suspended and subsequently dismissed. The company have been engaging in out sourcing jobs of permanent workers to contractors which created unsafe work environment and would have resulted in job losses. The union staged a large protest on NP’s compound on 30 October 2013 demanding the immediate reinstatement of the 68 workers.

Interference in trade union activities19-08-2013

Orville Carrington, the Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), was barred from entering the Ministry of Education for negotiations for having allegedly used threatening language. The union argued that the real reason for this order was to interfere with its right to represent the interests of workers in all workplaces.

Anti-union discrimination30-06-2013

The Southern branch of the company TSTT withheld workers’ salaries for the month of June after workers employed at the Cipero Rd. Work Centre and other work locations in the Southern District, took legitimate strike action to protect their health and safety. Workers had instigated a legal strike after repeatedly reminding management of its obligation to rectify serious health and safety infractions in accordance with the collective agreement.

Illegal lock-outs by employers23-03-2013

Despite a reinstatement order by the court, the company Petrotrin refused to allow some members of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union to report for work on 23 March 2013. The workers had been suspended for participating in a protest in front of Tower D of the Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre. The situation was resolved when the union complained to Petrotrin’s President.

Government refuses to reform labour legislation31-12-2011

The government continued to refuse to reform the law on essential services and collective bargaining to bring it into line with ILO minimum standards.

Collective bargaining hampered31-12-2011

Many unions’ collective bargaining efforts were blocked by employers’ delaying tactics. The state also repeatedly refused to negotiate collective agreements with public sector unions.

Right to organise limited in scope31-12-2011

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, etc., are not recognised as workers and cannot therefore legally join unions. The problems with obtaining union recognition continued, owing to manipulation by the state.

The effect of strike restrictions on workers31-12-2010

Despite the many formalities and restrictions on the right to strike, a number of unions did call work stoppages in several sectors, as they have done for the last few years. In some cases the State intervened to stop the strike, penalising the workers involved.

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