WATSON DUKE TAKES AIM AT SWISSPORT
President of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke’s recent uproar over a Swissport International Limited newspaper advertisement seeking non-nationals for employment with the company at the Piarco and Arthur NR International Airports has raised fresh concerns about the hiring of foreigners over citizens in the local job market.
And, with the thrust toward diversification, it also has placed renewed focus on the jobs that would enable this country to emerge from the current economic crunch and along a path to sustained growth.
Specifically, the advertisement sought foreign nationals who could speak English and work legally in Trinidad to fill positions such as passenger service agents, airport baggage and ramp handling agents, cargo agents and handlers, aviation security agents, wheelchair assistance, gas and diesel mechanics, supervisors and managers.
Duke, who also accused the company of violating the country’s labour laws, argued that these positions could easily have been filled by locals.
“Why are they allowed to box food out of one’s mouth and say it is for foreign nationals only?” he asked. “Why is it that this company is recruiting foreign nationals when there are people here who can do the same work?” Swissport Trinidad and Tobago has issued a statement, saying the company has been compliant with the country’s labour laws and regulations.
However, the company did not address specific concerns about its desire for foreign nationals to fill positions at the two airports.
The company said it was “a responsible employer” which prided itself on “its longstanding reputation as a competent and efficient provider in the service of the aeronautical industry of Trinidad and Tobago.” But president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN) Joseph Remy said he supported Duke’s concerns.
He described the ad as “insensitive,” saying it was published at a time when the PSA started to raise “particular issues” relating to the terms and conditions under which locals are working and the threat of job security.
“And in the face of that, you see this ad inviting foreign persons to apply for jobs in Trinidad and Tobago when there are competent local persons available to do the same jobs.” Remy said the labour movement was not against foreigners working in TT “but there has to be a policy position relative to how that is done and that policy cannot be one that will infringe on one’s constitutional rights for access to what the local economy provides.” “And, as such, we believe it was insensitive of that company to place that ad at a time when the PSA was raising some industrial relations issues because it says to us directly that the ad is in response to the concerns raised by the PSA and it is their response to the threat to withhold their labour for improved terms and conditions of employment,” he added.
Saying FITUN totally condemned the ad, Remy said the Ministries of Labour and National Security must carefully scrutinise the process for work permits in cases where foreigners have applied.
“They must note the impact it is going to have on the local labour market and the impact on the wider economy.” Remy said the jobs for which Swissport International was seeking foreigners could be accessed locally.
“There is a supply of labour for those jobs and as such, we should tap into that supply source instead of going foreign. And we believe that this is a real indictment against a sovereign nation,” he said.
“It says to us that they have no care for government policy and they feel they could come here and do what they want. And they believe that because the country is in an economically challenging time and we are looking for direct foreign investment, that they could do what they want and get away with it.” Urging the Government to stand firm on the issue, Remy said the fact that the company has placed an ad for jobs on the local market suggests, too, that educational institutions are not churning out what the local demand requires.
“That means we have a supply side situation and that is something that has to be corrected. We can’t be giving so many people tertiary education and we still have a shortage of skills sets throughout the country. Something is wrong.” According to Remy, TT ’s labour market is in a very precarious state “because no one can put their finger on the real status of where we are in terms of what are our absolute needs and what is our supply situation.” He added: “So, we don’t know what are the key skills sets and jobs that are required to carry the economy forward and we don’t know what is the supply side of it, whether we are churning out from our secondary schools, trade schools and tertiary institutions, the requisite skills sets to match the demand of the labour market.” Remy claimed such information has not been readily available from the Ministries of Labour and Planning and Development.
Claiming that unemployment rates were increasing rapidly, the veteran trade union leader wondered what would become of graduates of secondary and tertiary institutions given the ongoing retrenchment in several sectors.
“But then you are seeing vacancies being advertised for foreigners to come in the country. That to us says that something is fundamentally wrong.
Our planning is really atrocious.” President of the Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union Vincent Cabrera claimed on Thursday that an estimated 4,000 workers have been put on the breadline since September 2016, far surpassing the period 1985 to 1993 in which close to 7,000 people were retrenched.
He feared that the rising unemployment could lead to increased criminal activity.
Remy said there was no apparent nexus between the Ministries of Labour and Planning and Development in terms of conducting a manpower analysis.
“We are in an absolute mess and nobody is taking a handle of the situation.” Remy said the National Tripartite Advisory Council, from which union leaders have temporarily suspended their involvement over the Tourism Development Company issue, would have been the think-tank to address critical labour and economic issues.
“We would have been able to provide the government with certain outputs that would have allowed them to do certain things differently. But the politicians continue to do things wrong and expect to get different results.” Technology jobs of the future But Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, responding to Remy’s claims, yesterday said her ministry was already carrying out an analysis of the jobs that are required to take TT out of its economic slump.
She said the research, thus far, has shown that information communication technology, artificial intelligence and other technology-related fields will be the areas of opportunity of the future.
Robinson-Regis said jobs in the areas of human organ engineering, climate change and memory augmentation (the process by which one’s ability to retain information is increased) also will be in demand by the year 2030. “This is in the context of not only what is happening currently nationally, regionally and internationally, but what future trends indicate,” she told Reporters.
Robinson-Regis said an analysis was being carried out against the backdrop of the Government’s National Development Strategy Plan (2016- 2030) with research undertaken by the Central Statistical Office as well as through a technical cooperation agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank to conduct a Manpower Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago, part of which has already been initiated through the Global Services Promotion Programme of her ministry. Robinson- Regis said the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise was a key partner in this exercise.
She said Government was also involved in the development of a manpower strategy at two levels – sector- specific and aggregate.
The minister said the strategy entailed relevant research and was intended to identify human capital requirements, implement actions to develop required skills and, ultimately, support the achievement of the country’s economic goals through a clear direction for the human resources of TT moving into the future.
Robinson-Regis said another IDB project, specifically targeting the youth, also was among the ministry’s plans to support the labour sector.
“The IDB has approved a regional technical cooperation (plan) called ‘Support for Productivity and Youth Employment Initiatives in the Caribbean’ with the aim of addressing low productivity and youth unemployment,” she said.
“It is also intended to improve skills building, the labour market and will identify potential public private partnerships for youth employment.” Robinson-Regis said TT , Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas have been invited to participate in the IDB-executed initiative.
She said the IDB and Ministries of Labour and Planning will be partners in this collaboration once full approval has been obtained.