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It’s time to take the cheap talk and go

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In most countries, the loss of a big engineering project likely to directly and indirectly employ many workers and bring in direct investment is seen by trade union leaders as a major blow to their membership. The rationale is simple: if a major construction contract is secured, jobs are maintained.

This is good news not only for the workers themselves but also for the union’s membership fee collection.

In most sensible countries, the oil workers’ union would be the first to denounce the loss of a major project like the building of the Angelin platform. Not here.

Instead, and for the sake of arrogance and grandstanding, the OWTU president, Ancel Roget, not only told bpTT that it should “take your rig and go” but, speaking at the same JTUM-organised protest last week, he stated that the organisation was prepared to “shake up this blasted place.”

Such cheap, irresponsible and unintelligent comments would be bad under any circumstances. Given the current state of the country’s economy and the highly competitive nature of the energy sector at times of a glut of supply across the chain of production, such stance is plainly stupid.

This newspaper has nothing against trade unionism. The role of trade unionism in the formation of this country is unquestionable, with the roots of the independence movement harking back to the strike of 1937. Trade unionism in general must also be credited with improved conditions for workers all over the world and a better kind of capitalism.

If most of us now benefit from paid vacations, improved safety standards and protection from dismissal without cause, it’s thanks to trade unionism.

However, as is the case with any political organisation, the problems begin when power becomes more important than the cause.

That’s effectively what signalled the weakening of the trade union movement where, bluntly, they lost the plot by thinking they could be bigger than democratically elected governments. That’s best exemplified by the National Union of Miners in the UK during the fateful Miners’ Strike early into Margaret Thatcher’s premiership (and the fact they failed to notice how Britons were fed up with endless and senseless strikes affecting all sectors of the economy).

The opposite is the case where trade unions work for the benefit of their membership but also with the benefit of society equally in mind. For that, look at Germany.

It’d be unthinkable to hear a trade union leader there uttering similar words to Mr Roget’s regarding the loss of a big contract, or threatening to “shake up” the place. With our approach, we have a GDP per capita of around USD16,000 and falling. With theirs, Germans enjoy nearly three times ours and their economy is growing. So who right and who is wrong?

The construction of Angelin’s platform may be a lost cause but we can still make sure that future constructions, especially as Guyana’s fields begin to be explored, can take place here, securing skilled jobs and securing indirect jobs as well. And this can be achieved with fair pay and robust safety standards (something this country enjoys despite Mr Roget’s protests to the contrary). For that to be possible, though, we need an OWTU that understands a world not built on posturing but common sense. If not, and to paraphrase one’s statement, perhaps it’s time for Mr Roget to take his position and go.


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