Tuesday, September 11, 2012

PRESS CONFERENCE : Tuesday 11th September, 2012

Tuesday 11th SEPTEMBER, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning

First of all, I want to thank each of you for being here today, and for giving us the opportunity to highlight a matter that we consider to be of great urgency, an issue developing that the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union sees as having far reaching consequences, even nationally, if not expeditiously addressed and dealt with by the government.

Ladies and gentlemen about two days before this nation celebrated its 50th Independence Anniversary on August 28th, 2012; Twenty One (21) workers of Caroni 1975 Limited were callously and unceremoniously terminated from their employment with the company.
In the first instant, The Company without care and without following due process, obscenely violated the provisions of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act 1985, Section 6 - the minimum period of formal notice required by section 4 shall be forty-five days before the proposed date of retrenchment, by which I mean there was no notice to the workers, no discussion, no consultation and no offers of alternative employment.

This harsh and oppressive action taken by Caroni Ltd a representative of the Government, is made even worst and adds to the further indictment of the government and those in authority, since these workers were engaged in the regularisation project of ensuring security of tenure for 4500 cane farmers of this nation, Cane farmers who are dependent on this project for the safety and security of knowing that the lands they would have laboured on for generations, cannot be taken away from them by the whim and fancies of anybody.

The funding for this project would have come from the approximately 400 million dollars given to the government of Trinidad and Tobago for the development and implementation of policies designed to give comfort and provide alternative sources of income to these cane farmers since the shut down of the Sugar Industry.

As such we therefore have two issues that are enmeshed together:
(1) the violation of the labour laws of Trinidad and Tobago by the harsh and oppressive termination of these workers
(2) the direct impact and negative consequences of this action on 4500 cane farmers who were dependant on these workers and the project they were engaged in, for security of tenure and comfort of knowing that they were regularised on the lands they have occupied for so long.

Our information is that no additional funding was allotted for the second phase of this regularisation project which has three phases. Even the full amount of funding that was needed for the first phase was not allocated. Yet this is monies that were given to the Government specifically to deal with issues facing the cane farmers.

What is telling and even more strange is that this was an ongoing project of such a vital nature and a cabinet note requesting funding for the second phase though supplied to the ministry and reviewed by ministry officials, never reached cabinet. Perhaps it was a deliberate or perhaps it was an oversight, I don’t know. I prefer not to draw conclusions based on mere speculation and assumption.

Our Union is extremely concerned, since while it attempts to assist the Ex-Caroni workers in acquiring their 2 acre and residential plots, many of which after so many years are still outstanding, with poor infrastructural works, lack of access roads, persons having paid for lots over five years now and still to receive them, persons still not even allocated plots as yet, others being allocated lands miles away from where they live, persons allocated has been dislocated and yet to be re-allocated and numerous other problems still to be addressed.

So in addition to the problems facing the Ex-Caroni workers as they attempt to access that which is legally due to them, not a gift or a privilege but a legal entitlement as per the VESEP package and the Deyalsingh Judgment, we have this situation with the cane farmers project arising.

Worst than this and even more frightening and confusing and blatantly revealing is the fact that while many Ex-Caroni workers are still suffering to get what is their legal right, while the Cane farmers security of tenure is now threatened, the government is continuing to pursue a project of land divestment to other persons who are not in the first two categories. So ex Caroni workers still to get land, cane farmers still to be regularised, but you are giving away land without a thought. A total insult to the ex-Caroni workers and contempt for the Deyalsingh Judgment, and a further insult to the Cane farmers

Someone in authority needs to tell us where is the EU money given to the Government for the singular purpose of dealing with the issues relating to Cane Farmers? Why these funds are not disbursed to the implementing agency for the regularisation of the cane farmers, but funding is instead made available for the land divestment programme.

The Union is calling upon the Government through the relevant line Ministers in Housing, Food Production and Finance to immediately address and resolve this issue, before a travesty and an injustice of colossal magnitude becomes a reality for these Cane farmers and also we must not forget the Ex-Caroni workers.

The purpose of this Press Conference is to bring to light the violations by this government of these 21 workers, to put the 4,500 cane farmer on notice that the project (Tenancy Regularisation Project) has stopped and to highlight that many Ex-Caroni (1975) workers are still suffering and waiting for the proper implementation of VESEP packages

Let us not forget that these are people who have laboured in the vineyards for many years making a productive contribution to our society
When I think of this issue ladies and gentlemen I am reminded of the words of Sir Walter Scott, in I think it was his poem Marion, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”

We are therefore calling upon the government to do what is just and what is fair to the retrenched workers, the cane farmers and at the same time not to forget the dilemma facing the ex-Caroni workers.

The Government must understand that the people are waiting, these retrenched workers are waiting, the cane farmers are waiting, the ex-Caroni workers are waiting, and they must understand that the people from the plantation fields whose backs provided the foundation upon which they stand are waiting. Let those who have laboured in the vineyards enjoy the fruits of their labour.

We the Union would like to see workers treated fairly as stated under the Retrenchment & Severance Benefits Act, the Restart of Tenancy Regularisation Project, as money for all THREE Phase has been given to the T&T Government, Someone in authority to indicate where is the EU money given to the government for the singular purpose of dealing with the issues relating to cane farmers and to Indicate to the government that there are still Ex-Caroni Workers still suffering for the resolution of lands and V.E.S.E.P. packages

A few months ago we held a meeting with over 1000 ex Caroni workers, we shall be soon doing the same in order to report to these workers the progress made in addressing their issues with regard to the implementation of the VESEP package.

If necessary we shall meet with the Cane farming bodies to assist them in their struggle
We shall begin the industrial relations process of dealing with the issue of the retrenched workers.

I thank you ladies and gentlemen
Yours sincerely,

Nirvan Maharaj
President General

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