This article was first published in the Trinidad Express Newspapers on July 11th 2018.
It does not need explaining to any one, employer or employed, that we are experiencing a difficult socio-economic situation in Trinidad & Tobago. The Trade Union Movement, self-represented by Ancil Roget blames this on the government’s mismanagement of the economy, financiers blame it on the international economy being unstable, and the rest of the population blame it on Mr. Trump.
In the midst of all this confusion, and acutely aware of the shrinking fortunes of their clients and the spectacularly rapid transition from a skills-based economy to a technology-based system, one of the international consulting firms has advised employers in both private and public sectors to outsource skills and responsibilities wherever they can, until this period of uncertainty stabilizes (if it ever does).
This has the advantage of flexibility in uncertain markets for those organisations that might otherwise face closure, and the somewhat paradoxical advantage for skilled workers who lose one job due to retrenchment, enabling them to more easily find another, albeit one on a short-term and contractual basis with companies that need the function to be performed but are unsure about how long they will be able to do so. Thus, “Job Hopping “has become the order of the day. Those who are in a highly skilled and high demand field find this “job Hopping” lucrative and easy to do. Those in job areas that demand little or no technical knowledge or do not know how to work the system, find it difficult in the extreme.
The Industrial Court in Trinidad & Tobago gave an interesting judgement a couple of months ago which finally gave guidelines to those in the employment field looking for guidelines in how to navigate these dangerous waters.
The case involved a state enterprise that had outsourced a particular job function to a contracting agency. There are about six or seven in the country. These agencies, which have grown out of the recruitment agencies of yesteryear, fulfil the middleman function of finding people for jobs needed by employers who are trying to find long-term workers with a particular skill set , or they are uncertain about how long the economy can sustain their business they hire the agencies to find temporary employees for them, saving employers time and money as , nowadays, the agency is willing not only to find qualified people, but if the employer does not want to face the complications of industrial relations administration, they hire them, train them, pay them, organise vacation leave and take care of NIS , green fund, PAYE and all the other statutory and legislated requirements that can be somewhat burdensome to employers ( at a fee) then second them to the employer who needs them It is a sort of “rent a skill” system. Young people love it as it gives them a chance to find out what company cultures are like, what work discipline involves and provides that first essential “work experience” item to put on their resumes that makes them marketable at the start of their careers. This is usually without cost to those who are “between jobs”, as musicians and those in the acting profession abroad say.
In this particular case before the Court, the jobs provided by the agency involved several women assigned to security in a large state enterprise which had contracted the agency to provide the service in the normal way. When the State Enterprise contract came to an end, the agency’s contract came to an end, and so, inevitably, did the workers employment. Since the agency’s core business is the placement or secondment of employees to needy employers, naturally they look around for new places to place the workers. In this case they had trouble placing the women whose union then took the matter to court as an unjust dismissal, and subsequently, mid-case, as a constructive dismissal.
The workers had a good case because for some time the State, as is shamefully happening more and common now, had not been paying the Agency for its services so they, in turn, had been not been able to pay the workers. For a while the managers of the agency had used their own money and took out loans, which the poor workers, caught in the middle, were aware of, but as managers have families to feed and rent to pay as well, sooner or later they ran out of funds. They let the workers know, and, in accordance with their individual employees’ contracts, their employment came to an end.
Why does the public service, backed by all of our tax money which pays out huge sums for dubiously needed building contracts allow this to happen? Why does the Ministry of Finance let employees suffer? In this case, the agency that employed the women willingly admitted that they owed them money for back wages, vacation pay etc. and the court sat with the parties and got them to agree a repayment schedule.
The Court said that the dismissals had not been unjust of contrary to the principles of good industrial relations in that 1) the terminations were in accordance with the terms of the employees ‘contracts, 2) The implied duty of trust had not been broken as the employees had been told all along what was happening and 3) the employer agreed to pay the wages owed.