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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Given the rampant corruption, nepotism, cronyism, favouritism and wanton wastage of the last government, it is understandable any government following in its path would have to make difficult and sometimes harsh decisions, but there is no excuse for the appalling manner in which the 114 Tourism Development Company (TDC) workers have been treated.

Without any notice, they learnt of their fate when Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe announced at a post-Cabinet news conference in Tobago on March 9, that the TDC would be dissolved. To add insult to injury, their trade union, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), was brusquely informed of this Cabinet decision in a one-minute telephone call from the minister to the CWU president just before the news conference.

There had been no discussion or consultation with the CWU. Even the TDC’s recently appointed CEO was kept in the dark and now finds himself presiding over the dissolution of that which he was hired to improve and develop. According to the acting tourism minister in Parliament on Wednesday last, the TDC will be wound up and “two entities with distinct organisational structures in Trinidad and Tobago, with responsibility for tourism destination marketing and product development” will be established.

In his statement in Parliament, he said that in June 2016 a consultancy to review the institutional structure and operational framework of the TDC was completed and a recommendation made to Government. However, the acting minister never stated when exactly the Cabinet took the decision to shut down the TDC, no doubt to hide the extent of the Government’s deception.

According to the CWU, it met with Minister Cudjoe in November 2016 and nothing was said about shutting down the TDC. Notwithstanding the launch of the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) in March 2016 when the Prime Minister stated that NTUC was created to promote “consensus building and democratic involvement of the key stakeholders of business, labour and government on national development issues”, there was no consultation or discussion or any communication with the CWU on the signed and sealed demise of the TDC.

The Prime Minister’s words were hollow and make (as the justifiably angry CWU president puts it) his government’s “breach principles of tripartism and consultation” even more acute. Not surprisingly the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc), and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (Fitun) pulled out of NTAC, recognising it as another governmental farce.

The Minister of Labour, herself a former firebrand trade unionist, had to make all sorts of empty statements about the TDC workers, saying that they would be treated “fairly” and they would be “able to apply” to the new but still non-existent entities, and then retreated by saying “I am not the chair”. Signs of Errol McLeod all over again?

Similarly, the acting Tourism minister, like the Labour minister, was left to face the heat while Ms Cudjoe conferred in Belgium, and was required to make equally vacuous and vague statements such as, the TDC workers “with the relevant skills, experience and qualifications can ‘transition’ to the new entities”, that “employment opportunities will also be available upon establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Regulatory and Licensing Authority (TTTRLA)”, and that “affected” employees can register with the National Employment Services registry at the Labour Ministry where “opportunities for employment are available”.

In simpler terms, the TDC workers would be left to fend for themselves. It’s a done deal, your organisation has been shut down and there’s nothing for you.

The failure to treat with the CWU and to reveal the recommendation made, or the consideration being given to the future of the TDC, were all unforgivable and the Government’s failure to be transparent makes it appear dishonest and deceitful.

What is the real reason for shutting down the TDC? Could it not have been restructured and renamed and workers kept on or re-deployed elsewhere? Why the complete lack of regard for these 114 citizens? And is the TTTRLA different to the “two entities with distinct organisational structures in Trinidad and Tobago” mentioned by the acting minister? In any event, isn’t the THA already in charge of tourism in Tobago, so why another parallel Tobago entity? Or is the THA’s responsibility for its colossal failure in tourism being avoided by these TDC machinations while its former chief secretary who presided over the THA employing 40 per cent of the Tobago workforce is gifted with an appointment as High Commissioner to London? Hot on the heels of the numerous blunders of its predecessors, the Government has once again made a mess and has come across as arrogant and high handed.

That being said, the Government has time to rescind its decision, to restructure the TDC and try to minimise job losses there, and involve the CWU in any process with the TDC. Trade unions are required to be publicly militant but they are not unreasonable and have ideas worth listening to. Of course, it is unlikely that this PNM Government will change its mind, so uncaring it is, as exemplified by Ms Cudjoe, who shamelessly posted on her Facebook page in the face of the criticism of her behaviour, “Oooh I afraid”. Pity the Nidco workers whose necks are next on the chopping block for the PNM axe.

Mickela Panday


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