A Statement by the Chair of the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC), the Hon Camille Robinson-Regis, Minister of Planning and Development

The news of the withdrawal of the Trade Union Sector from the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) on yet another occasion has been received with deep consternation.

It was only two days ago, on Tuesday March 9th 2021, that the 27th Meeting of the Council was held. I was not present. It was the day prior to my resumption of office.  From reports received, I am advised that Members exchanged views and ideas in the normal spirit of camaraderie, congeniality and objectivity and completed an Agenda which covered a total of approximately 30 very in- depth items and exited the meeting filled with expectation and optimism.

The unexpected and sudden withdrawal of the Labour Sector Bodies from the Council, without as little as a forewarning, has come as a shock to us all.

In the next four days, March 15th, 2021 NTAC will celebrate its fifth (5th) Anniversary. It is a milestone worthy of commendation, it being the longest recorded attempt on the part of the nation’s Social Partners to remain committed to the philosophy of Tripartism in Trinidad and Tobago.

To mark the occasion, we plan to bring the population up to date on some of the achievements recorded since the Council’s Inauguration.

The withdrawal of the Trade Union Sector from this august body could not have come at a more inopportune time. In doing so, they have denied themselves the self-satisfaction of being advised first hand of the rewards of their own labor many of which are about to bear fruit.

NTAC has been the most proactive institution of its kind in Trinidad and Tobago having convened no less than 33 Meetings. 

Labour Sector’s Contribution to Governance

There is no denying that the Labour Sector Representatives, much like the other Sector Representatives, have been making immeasurable and invaluable contributions to the achievements which the Council has recorded over the past five years.

Together with the Private and Government Sector Representatives, NTAC’s Labour Sector Member Representatives have been part and parcel of

(1)         making recommendations to Cabinet to enhance the overall level of Total Factor Productivity and to improve the Work Ethic in Trinidad and Tobago. This undertaking, unanimously approved by Cabinet, is currently in the early stages of implementation by the Ministry of Planning and Development.

(2)         being proactively involved in the making of Recommendations to Cabinet on Amendments to (a) the Industrial Relations Act Ch 88:01 and (b) the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act Ch 88:13.

(3)         being engaged in deliberations on Amendments to the Workmen’s Compensation Act Ch 88:05 soon to be presented to the Cabinet.

(4)         being instrumental in working alongside the NTAC Sector Partners in crafting for Cabinet consideration the COVID-19 Public Sector Workplace Policy now in effect

(5)         submitting to the Finance and General Purposes Committee recommendations on COVID-19 Special and Pandemic Leave arrangements for Public Sector employees.

(6)         playing a pivotal role in development of NTAC’s Proposal to Cabinet to establish an independent Committee of multidisciplinary professionals to create a mechanism to bring about a resolution to the long Outstanding Public Sector Negotiations. Two Representatives of each of the Labour Sector’s Umbrella bodies (JTUM, FITUN and NATUC) are expected to serve on that Committee

(7)         being involved in developing recommendations to deepen, strengthen and enhance NTAC’s Interaction with the Cabinet and

(8)         developing a rationale for enactment of a legislative framework within which NTAC should be made to function as an Independent Statutory Body.

These are but a few.

In addition, Labour Sector Representatives sit as Members of NTAC’s Four Corporate Governance Standing Sub Committees which guide and influence the deliberations of the Council. One of these Labour Sector Representatives is Chair of NTAC’s “Essential Services and Infrastructure” Standing Sub Committee.

A Challenging Proposition

It may not be generally known, but experience has shown that establishing a National Tripartite Body is not as straightforward and smooth an undertaking as many may perceive it to be. It is about bringing together around the same table three diametrically diverse national institutions traditionally in confrontation with and having low trust in one another but with great expectations that somewhere and some time along the way the bodies will settle down to becoming the collaborative and consensual institution that it is meant to be. This takes time, patience and mutual understanding which as a Nation we must give NTAC the opportunity to exert as we engage one another in national development initiatives.

At the Crossroads

Fortunately, NTAC is at the crossroads. Over the past year the three Social Partners, Government, Labour and Private Sector, have arrived at consensus at making recommendations to position the Council much closer to the territorial domain of the Cabinet. We have identified the range of National Development Initiatives which we have agreed that the Cabinet should refer for NTAC’s advice.

So, while we are not in any way dismissive of whatever may be the concerns of the Trade Union Sector, we are not ruling out the fact that the door is open for them to return to NTAC where they can be most effective and they symbiotically belong.

An Independent Body

NTAC is not an official arm of the Government in the classical sense of the word. It is an independent Institution whose presence within the Government decision-making mechanism is administratively and financially facilitated by the Cabinet which reserves the prerogative to select the Chair of the Council.

To condone any one of the three Partners withdrawing from the Body without giving prior notice and justification to the other Sector Partners is therefore painfully disdainful of no institution other than itself. It tantamounts to a failure on its part, inadvertent as it may be, to live up to its own credentials as a sound and dependable contributor to national development.

It is in this spirit of concern for the welfare and wellbeing of the Sector that we invite them to resume their rightful place in NTAC and we await the opportunity to welcome them back into the organization when the dust is cleared from their eyes and the vision for a brighter future for Trinidad and Tobago, on their part, is altruistically reignited.

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