FLASHBACK - OWTU’S Chief Education and Research Officer, Ozzie Warwick, left, JTUM President General Ancel Roget, PSA President Watson Duke, SWWTU President General Michael Annisette, NUGFW President James Lambert and others at a joint trade unions news conference on 10th March 2021.

The three trade union conglomerations—Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) and Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN)—have released a joint statement, indicating their opposition to an extension of the current State of Emergency (SoE) for another three months.

In the strongly worded document, the trade union groupings say they support measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  However, they argue the current SoE has created a great deal of hardship of many working people in this country.

According to the unions: “This SOE has effectively decimated many thousands of small and medium businesses and obliterated employment opportunities for thousands of citizens. It has also created an increased cadre of ‘working poor’ as a result of obscene and unchecked price increases in the face of wage freezes or reduction and massive joblessness.”

The following is the full text of the joint statement released today, by JTUM, NATUC and FITUN…

The country’s entire trade union movement, National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOS (FITUN) would like to publicly express our deep concerns, fear and objection to the Government’s decision to extend the State of Emergency (SOE) for another three (3) months.

In the absence of any cogent empirical data to justify the success of the first SOE, we find it repulsive for the Government to unleash another period of severe restrictions on normal economic and civil activity which curb in a fundamental way, the freedom, rights and civil liberties of the citizens of our Country, on the eve of our Independence. This SOE has effectively decimated many thousands of small and medium businesses and obliterated employment opportunities for thousands of citizens. It has also created an increased cadre of ‘working poor’ as a result of obscene and unchecked price increases in the face of wage freezes or reduction and massive joblessness.

The trade union movement would like to categorically state that we will support any measures to curb and or reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus, but we believe that any measures implemented must be done in a proportional and temporal manner. From the results so far, we are not at all convinced that the SOE in particular has had any success in curbing the spread of the virus. To us, it is a measure to intimidate and prevent all the voices that would criticize the government’s anti-people agenda.

While we maintain our objections to the declaration of the SOE in the first instance, we believe that the three (3) month period that elapsed between May 28th and August 29th, 2021, was more than sufficient for the Government to put all the necessary measures in place to stabilize the state of the nation and bring about the requisite balance between preserving lives, livelihood and the economic stability of the country. We need to remind citizens that Covid-19 was declared a Pandemic since March 2020 and the country has been in a state of lockdown at different levels since then. The Government would have had more than sufficient time to implement the necessary measures to stabilize the economy.

The extension of the SOE until November 29, 2021, exposes a fundamental contradiction in the approach to opening up the economy even to the point of the Retail Sector and schools, while at the same time, restricting the freedom and civil liberties of the citizens. These measures are certainly running counterproductive to each other. As such, we believe that there are other ulterior motives behind this draconian measure. We find it ironic that this extension is being pursued against the background of the labour movement’s declaration of September 1st, 2021, as Freedom Day, where the labour movement will be intensifying the fight against government oppression, lack of accountability and dictatorial tendencies.

There is a misconception that the only stringent measure that arose from this SOE is the implementation of a Curfew, which restricts movement between certain hours, and as such once this is realized, then it is ok for the SOE to continue. We wish to posit that under the SOE, the state has the “unfettered powers” to: restrict Press Freedom and Public Meetings; enter and search homes and other private places without a warrant; arrest without warrant and charges; restrict the hosting of Religious Services; restrict the full use of public transportation; restrict outdoor exercise at any time; determine what is a public space; confiscate private property with or without compensation; regulate the operations of private enterprises; interfere with financial transactions and export regulations and enact special legislation to punish non-compliance with emergency regulations.

These are very draconian measures that can be used in a surreptitious and clandestine manner by a government when placed under pressure from civil society. We are also deeply concerned with the ability of the Government to use this period to implement economic policies that will be detrimental to the future stability of the country without the ability of civil society and the wider citizenry to publicly demonstrate against them due to the regulations imposed during the SOE. Case in point being the Government’s continued thrust to liberalize the fuel market with the attendant economic implications for the ordinary citizen, the forced reduction of the workforce under the guise of restructuring of State Enterprises such as WASA, the Port Authority, T&TEC, TSTT, TTPOST, to force privatization upon an unsuspecting citizenry, therefore corruptly putting public goods in the hands of one section of the society; the imposition of austerity measures in the upcoming Budget Presentation, without the ability of civil society and the citizenry to raise any effective public demonstration and opposition to them. We wish to remind all of the Minister of Finance famous statement, when he said that “I raised prices twice and they have not rioted as yet”.

This action by the Government leaves us to surmise that there is an attempt to neutralize political and civil society opposition for self-serving purposes and crush any form of dissent, which could have not been done under normal circumstances due to their failed economic policy prescriptions.

We demand that the Government withdraw this proposed unjustified extension and put measures in place to ensure that there is some transparency in parliament to determine if there is justification for their decision to declare the SOE and the imposition of the specific measures to address the current situation. Also, we call on all citizens, political organizations, civil society to join us in our demand that the government withdraw the extension of the unjustified SOE. In addition, we demand the cooperation with civil society through the immediate implementation of a Civil Society Forum to look at the pressure and impact that these measures would have had on the society and to determine the efficacy of the Governments measures to ensure that there are no unwarranted restrictions of human rights as a result of the Government’s actions.

As patriotic citizens we must take a stand against tyranny, economic oppression, pauperization and government’s lack of respect for any other voices within the society.