This article was first published in the Trinidad Express Newspapers on October 27th 2019.
In Trinidad & Tobago ‘s Industrial Relations system ”Recognition “ resembles what used to be referred to as “Plighting your troth” Which was promising to enter into and stay in a contractual relationship with another in which both would take responsibility for those under their joint care.
Except for one difference. In industrial relations in T&T there is no divorce unless one of the parties takes illegal industrial action (the equivalent to infidelity), or closes down for good ( or dies). The contract is made between a union and an organisation , not between workers and managers, which is made clear in the Certificate of Recognition. Dissolving the contract , even in the case of illegal industrial action can only take place if one of the parties applies to have it dissolved in which case the court has the power to do so. This has never happened and by common belief will never happen, whether the actual people in either side want or do not want it .
Freedom of Association is a fundamental freedom granted to each of us under sections four and five of the Constitution of Trinidad & Tobago. Together with the Protection of the Right to Organise it is at the core of those Conventions of the International Labour Organisation ratified by our Government. This we have legislated in the Industrial Relations Act.
The combination can get complicated at times On an individual level it means that any adult has the freedom to associate with any other adult , (except if under legal restraint) or any other organisation such as religious sects, even those of the Jim Jones variety that can brainwash and become lethal ; any political party that is duly registered, however weird or outrageous its promises ;any trade union of choice and any NGO you may wish to associate with, even outrageous ones like the Trap Door Spiders Society , named after a species of spider that pulls its door shut after it enters its burrow to prevent any one else from entering. The TDSS is a males-only club created to keep women out. It reminds me of the sign that used to be in front of the Queens Park Oval which read :”No Dogs and women allowed past this point”
Freedom of Association is closely linked to Freedom of Assembly and Protection of the Right to Organise , recognized as purveying the right of citizens to join in protest against what they regard as unjust laws or government policies .It is the right being exercised in Argentina, Hong Kong, Washington, Spain, Turkey, and the Yellow Vests in France.
Before Trinidad had laws regulating Recognition of trade unions, it often used to take a strike, (which could become violent) to force an organisation to agree to enter into negotiations with a union chosen by a majority of its employees.
Where it gets complicated is that the Freedom to Associate also, by definition, implies the Freedom not to Associate…..not to marry someone that repels you, not to be forced to join or even associate with a religious organisation, NGO, political party or Trade Union with which you do not wish to associate. This is a fundamental freedom, but not an unqualified one.
One of the restrictions on these freedoms is that, in exercising one you should not thereby be denying the rights of another person.. No one can force you to join the Back Door Spiders Society if you find that it is ridiculous , but if the rules of the society specifically exclude you, no one can force the Society to let you in. But mass protest action and social evolution can eventually wear down and influence the Spiders to change the rules. Even women, historically those most oppressed and excluded from power of any human group can now vote, hold religious office in most major belief systems , become Heads of State and International Organisations and belong to the Queens Park Oval.
However,once Recognition has been granted to a Trade Union in T&T , bar death and breaking the law, nothing such as abandonment can result in divorce. In one of the most interesting judgements issued this year by the Industrial Court, a relationship between a union that was duly recognized by law and subsequently neglected to exercise its right to enter into and treat with the organisation for which it was recognized for thirty four years, has recently won a court award which stated that it is still recognized even after the long years of separation and inaction.
According to the Award, It is the responsibility of both parties to initiate, ( or try to , ) the interaction that gives meaning to the relationship If neither of them does, both are responsible, and the terms and conditions that applied when the relationship ceased remain those in law to be applied. There is a recognisable logic to that reasoning , although the award, also with reason, noted that the 34 year gap “will not justify no increase in the terms and conditions of the workers”. Well it wouldn’t have to would it? The workers would long ago have found other jobs.
It did, however cause a certain amount of confusion when the same judgement stated, and I quote:”” the recognized union ….retains the exclusive right to seek to have those terms and conditions altered. The employer….is not entitled to alter those terms and conditions unilaterally but must do so by collective bargaining….” Interesting paradox there.