Member of Parliament for Couva South, Rudranath Indarsingh MP, shadow Minister of Labour. (Image courtesy Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago)

Shadow Minister of Labour and Member of Parliament for Couva South, Rudranath Indarsingh, has sternly rebuked the Minister of Finance for what he says is an attempt to once again, dishonour a legally constituted collective bargaining agreement.

The Couva South MP was reacting to comments made by Minister Imbert on the status of arrears payments on the 2014-2016 collective agreement negotiated by the PSA for NIB workers.  The Minister was responding to a query in the Senate, yesterday, from Opposition Senator Wade Mark.

MP Indarsingh points out the Minister is being less than truthful when he claims the agreement was signed under the People’s Partnership Administration.

“In reality, the agreement, which is for the bargaining period 2014-2016, was signed by the Government on 20th October 2020, under the administration of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. It is, therefore, the Government of which Colm Imbert is Finance Minister that validated the agreement under question. The Finance Minister has stopped woefully short of telling the truth,” a statement from the MP said.

He added: “The Minister’s announcement that he has launched an investigation into the agreement is boldfaced, out of place and downright disrespectful to NIB workers and their unions, as this agreement was signed bilaterally in accordance with the Industrial Relations Act. This Minister is going out if his way to undermine the law through his attempted invalidation of this agreement executed in accordance with the Industrial Relations Act.”

MP Indarsingh is asking why the Minister, after being in office for six years and having ample opportunity to review this and other industrial agreements, is suddenly voicing concern about it.

“Given that it is his own PNM administration that signed and validated the agreement just last year, why would the Minister come today, mere months later, and accuse the management of the NIB acting illegitimately?” he asked.

According to the Couva South MP, the Finance Minister “is scrambling for a reason to not assemble monies owed to workers because of his own inability to stimulate cash flows needed to restore prosperity in the country”, and as such, Government is “setting the stage for the PNM to deny workers of the monies to which they are entitled”.

“This attempt by the Minister of Finance to invalidate the agreement at NIB follows similar statements made by the Minister against the management and workers of the National Petroleum Marketing Company, in which he sought to invalidate the collective bargaining agreement made between management and workers as represented by their union, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU),” MP Indarsingh points out.

“You would recall that the Minister blamed Industrial Court for awarding increases in salaries to NP workers, when in fact this was not so. It took a business reporter to expose the Minister’s false claims, and to correct the record.  It was in fact the management of NP that engaged the workers through the OWTU and used the collective bargaining process to negotiate increases in wages,” he said.

He added: “Minister Imbert must be reminded that the Insurance Act allows for the management of the board of NIB to be guided by the general direction of the Ministry and the Government, and it is most obvious that the management was being guided accordingly regarding the commencement and fulfilment of the bargaining process with the workers and their union.”

The shadow labour minister called for end to what he says is Government’s “continuous assault of the labour movement and workers in this country”, and undermining of “the sturdy industrial climate left by the People’s Partnership Administration, which settled 135 wage negotiations in its 5-year term”.