The bipartite discussion for Trinidad and Tobago featured Michael Annisette (NATUC), Stephanie Fingal and Keston Nancoo (ECA), Ozzie Warwick (JTUM), Matthias Thorns (IOE), as well as Dennis Zulu, Lars Johansen, Vanessa Phala and Marcelo Alvarenga of the ILO.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago –- Strengthening social dialogue between employers’ and workers’ organizations in Trinidad and Tobago to build more resilient labour markets damaged by COVID-19 was a key commitment made during a bi-partite dialogue hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the Caribbean.

During the virtual event, high-level representatives from employers’ and workers’ groups expressed their solidarity to find sustainable solutions to the many complex socio-economic challenges faced by businesses and employees as a result of the global health pandemic.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the situation has meant significant losses suffered by many economic sectors, leading to layoffs and business closures. Some of the hardest hit [businesses] include oil and gas, construction, tourism and hospitality, civil aviation, retail, trade, manufacturing and entertainment.

The meeting was part of the ILO Office for the Caribbean’s ongoing efforts to engage constituents in social dialogue to explore different approaches to address the crisis. It provided a forum for the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA), the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago (NATUC) and the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) to discuss the interconnected impacts on the economy and workforce, as well as share ideas for developing a roadmap for a sustainable recovery.

“Employers ́ and workers ́ organizations have a key part to play in the design and implementation of public support measures for the sectors most directly affected by the pandemic. They can ensure that measures to protect the livelihoods of workers and enterprises are implemented effectively and are targeted at those most in need,” said Dennis Zulu, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean, during his opening remarks.

“This is a watershed moment if there ever was one. As social partners, we must therefore be reminded of a principle that I know my comrades from the trade union movement will understand and appreciate, and that is, ‘there is power in community and power in agreement.’

In this regard, we must commit to putting aside our differences and plumb the depths of what we really believe about one another, about Trinidad and Tobago, and about the value of cooperation and dialogue,” said Keston Nancoo, Chairman of the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) of Trinidad and Tobago, as he addressed meeting participants.

Participants highlighted that the pandemic has worsened already existing socio-economic disparities, particularly for the economically disadvantaged who are often employed in the informal economy without social protection.

“We must recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the sharpest and deepest economic contraction in the history of capitalism. In Trinidad and Tobago, we cannot forget that the pandemic has exacerbated existing structural problems. It has exposed the vulnerability of the economic framework in terms of the deep social and economic inequalities – the old normal, which we haven’t even reconciled,” explained Ozzy Warwick, JTUM General-Secretary.

The importance of greater collectivism was also recognized to go beyond traditional measures and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 so that government, workers and employers can build back better for an effective recovery.

“Job growth and economic growth are the pillars to get out of this particular situation. We need to find meaningful ways in order to keep the economy afloat. The traditional way of sending workers home cannot be and must not be the answer” said Michael Annisette, General-Secretary of NATUC. “The tripartite approach is needed more now than ever. Creativity, innovation, and thinking out of the box are absolutely necessary.”

Matthias Thorns, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) also joined the meeting to show examples of how different countries are effectively leveraging social dialogue in their COVID-19 response to preserve employment and ease the burden on businesses as much as possible.

As the meeting closed, participants reiterated their commitment to working together to develop and implement a recovery roadmap for the labour markets of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We welcome the different examples and situations communicated by our colleagues in the labour movement,” said Stephanie Fingal, Chief Executive Officer (Interim) of the ECA.

“We are prepared as far as possible to continue to advise on the best possible welfare approach for employees, but the economic part cannot be forgotten. We have to really sit down and find that half-way mark as to how we move forward.”

“I trust that we will be able to concretize how we are moving forward after this conversation. There must be a level of continuity and a level of the meeting of the minds given what is happening. We are committed to working with the social partners and to the principles of social dialogue,” said Michael Annisette.

“It is a long road ahead. Even with the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine, the social and economic fallout will be with us for years to come,” said Lars Johansen, Deputy Director of the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean. “This dialogue is important to find joint solutions and it needs to continue. The ILO is here to provide support to you, our constituents, and despite the pandemic, we are finding different ways of delivering the services that are expected of us.”