By Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Trinidad and Tobago’s public administration minister, Marlene McDonald, says that workers can be fined $500 and jailed for three months if they stay away from work as part of planned industrial action by local unions on Friday protesting the recent announcement of the state-owned oil refinery Petrotrin, with the loss of some 3,500 jobs.
McDonald’s threat has been echoed by several other Cabinet ministers, including education minister Anthony Garcia, attorney general Faris Al-Rawi and energy minister Franklyn Khan as they apparently attempt to intimidate workers.
Opposition Member of Parliament for Couva South, Rudranath Indarsingh, condemned McDonald’s assertions, saying that the pronouncements are designed to intimidate workers into submission at a time when government policies have resulted in the loss of 40,000 jobs in the last 3 years and a further 3,500 with the closure of Petrotrin and many more in the fenceline communities.
“McDonald has no moral authority to point workers to the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) when the government to which she belongs has undermined the principles of good industrial relations practices and labour laws since it came into office in September 2015,” Indarsingh said.
The constitution, he contended, guarantees freedom of association and assembly and freedom of speech in relation to government policies, which he claimed have resulted in a literal collapse of the economy, rampant unemployment, increasing poverty, a spiralling out-of-control crime epidemic and the collapse of the education and health care systems.
Indarsingh reminded the administration that workers still have the freedom and the right of choice to engage in a day of rest and reflection if they so desire to send a message to a government, which has been very anti-worker since coming into office.
Indarsingh accused the government of fanning the flames of instability through its pronouncements at a time when it should be committed to social dialogue. He challenged McDonald to tell the country if the government is laying the foundation where it will instruct law enforcement officers to raid the offices of trade unions, the homes of labour leaders and union members.
Indarsingh, former minister of state in the ministries of labour and finance, said that the Rowley-led administration seems to be heading in the direction of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro style of leadership.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has been a frequent visitor to Venezuela, where trade unionists, opposition politicians and citizens who engage in peaceful demonstration are subject to the heavy hand of the military and police.
Indarsingh, a former president of one of the country’s largest unions, also accused the government of undermining the memorandum of understanding it signed with the labour movement prior to the 2015 general elections.