IS trade unionism relevant in today’s workplace?
Health and Wellness Minister, Mary Isaac, believes it is more relevant today than in the past because the workplace is more complicated today.
“A lot of organizations have grown. They are a lot bigger, so that in itself could present a few challenges in the workplace,” she said this week.
Isaac was a trade unionist before becoming a government minister. She was a member of the Civil Service Association (CSA), considered the largest public sector trade union, for several years before becoming its President. She led the CSA in many clashes with government over issues dealing with salaries and work conditions for members.
At one time, it was even declared that while she was the Association’s President, she had sold out the Association by accepting a deal with the United Workers Party (UWP) when it was in opposition.
Isaac has denied this repeatedly, telling participants at an orientation seminar on Thursday organized by the National Workers Union (NWU) that her entry into politics had nothing to do with her being President of the CSA and that she became CSA more by accident than by design.
She called on the workshop participants to always be prepared to defend their colleagues in the workplace as challenges confronting shop stewards are even more complicated than before.
One of the challenges facing the CSA and the NWU regarding the workers they represent in the public service has to do with wages/salaries, which have been stagnant for some time now.
How the two trade unions, the two largest in the country in terms of membership, will tackle this with the government is not yet known.
The NWU, just last week, wrote to the Ministry of the Public Service reminding the Ministry that the freeze on industrial engagement implemented during the 2013–2016 period had ended. The NWU then requested an appointment with the Ministry on the way forward as it relates to the interest of daily paid non-establishment and Constituency Council workers represented by the NWU.
While it is too early to determine how negotiations on wages and salaries will turn out between the trade unions and the government, Isaac is already hinting that increases in either is reliant on growth in the various sectors of the economy.
“I know that trade unions are cognizant of the economic situation the country is facing. This government has said that as long as there is growth, we are willing to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. But first of all, Caesar has to work and produce so that there is growth sufficient enough to filter down to everybody,” she said.
The former trade unionist-turned-government minister said she envisaged growth in the economy and workers wanting to be rewarded for such growth.
“With growth, you will get rewarded, so you have to ensure there is growth,” she said.
The orientation seminar was held at the Finance Administrative Centre, Pointe Seraphine where first-timers to trade unionism were introduced to the importance of trade union membership, the necessity for inter-branch solidarity and how it could be a weapon for the trade union movement.
They were also introduced to the preparation and processing of collective bargaining, the importance of their financial contribution to trade union overall development, the relationship between the media and the trade union movement and whether the Department of Labour’s current roles and responsibilities are relevant in the new industrial relations dispensation.