Launch of Social Dialogue Workshop
- Date: June 26, 2012
Launch of the Social Dialogue Workshop
It gives me great pleasure to join you this morning for what is undoubtedly a historic occasion for Trinidad and Tobago. Today, as we meet to initiate discussions on a Social Dialogue process for Trinidad and Tobago, it is indeed the dawn of a new era. It marks the beginning of a new approach to shaping the social and economic landscape of our beloved country through the collaborative efforts of the Government and our social partners.
Your presence here today is testament to our shared commitment and love for Trinidad and Tobago. As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary of Independence this year, it is indeed significant that we work towards the establishment of a new platform of engagement. As we reflect on the theme of this workshop, “Towards People-Centred Development: Social Dialogue as the Key Driver”, our deliberations on matters pertaining to the country and your contribution, by way of recommendations for efficient problem-solving and determining the way forward, are of paramount importance. If we are to treat adequately with all dimensions of our society, then all voices and all views are important.
Against this background therefore, permit me to express my deep appreciation to everyone present here this morning for attending this Opening Ceremony and for participating in this milestone event.
I am also particularly pleased to welcome to Port of Spain representatives from Aruba, Barbados, Jamaica, Mauritius and the International Labour Organisation who have joined us today to share their experiences. We have recognized that there are lessons to be learned from the experiences of those who have walked this path before us. We are therefore grateful that you could join us.
As Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I am indeed proud to say that this event today is the fulfillment of the promise to promote a climate of national dialogue in a framework of civility and consensus-building, a key element of good governance
Ladies and gentlemen, as some of you may be aware, there have been previous attempts for the development of a social dialogue process in Trinidad and Tobago. Although these did not mature to fruition, the seeds were planted as many as twelve years ago when in response to the challenges of globalization, work had been undertaken in this direction.
It is no secret, ladies and gentlemen, that many countries around the world are still grappling with the effects of the global economic and financial crisis which have spurred a global jobs crisis and varying degrees of economic uncertainties. In this climate, Governments and social partners alike, across the globe, are recognizing that economic and social problems cannot be solved without collaboration, partnership and joint effort. The drivers of economic growth, social well-being and national development, have been, and must emanate from the collaborative effort of government, workers, employers and other social partners.
The experiences of countries such as Ireland, Mauritius and Singapore and our CARICOM sister, Barbados in the 1990’s highlight the importance and value of social dialogue as a mechanism for developing and implementing measures to address economic and social difficulties.
With respect to Barbados, we have taken note that the tripartite parties have focused on improving competiveness and productivity and have accepted wage freezes until the corresponding productivity gains were achieved. To date, the Social Partnership in Barbados, has adopted six (6) protocols which are based on certain principles and values including:
• sustained economic growth, a restructured economy and increased production;
• fostering and maintaining good labour-management relations;
• prices and incomes policy and maintaining the parity of the Barbados dollar;
• employment, training, social equity, public sector reform and social inclusion;
• maintenance of a stable industrial relations climate;
• reduction of social disparities through employment; and
• fostering national commitment to increased competitiveness through improved productivity and efficiency in the workplace.
The Republic of Korea is another success story where the use of social dialogue and Social Partnership Agreements, particularly in the management of the economic crisis in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 was successful. The social partners and Government reached a compromise on the IMF programme and agreed to a social pact in 1998 which was extensive and covered the national reform agenda and established a number of programmes for managing the crisis. This compromise, reached through a process of social dialogue in the middle of a deep economic crisis, marked the turning point towards economic recovery of the country.
Given the successes of social dialogue in countries that have adopted the approach as a problem solving and developmental mechanism, my Government proposed that the social partners embark on the process of developing a Social Partnership Agreement for Trinidad and Tobago using social dialogue as an effective tool for meeting collective challenges by creating a structure and environment suitable for more efficient problem solving as opposed to the traditional adversarial approach to industrial relations which can no longer deliver satisfactory results.
This Social Partnership Agreement is in keeping with the commitment outlined in the Framework for Sustainable Development, to create a continuing awareness among the people that they will have a right to participate in the Governance of the country and to incorporate mechanisms which will permit the voice of the people to be heard and to be taken into account in the polices being adopted by the Government.
In addition, we envision that this social dialogue mechanism, when fully functional, will take into account the views of wider stakeholders such as young people and women and widen the scope for greater participation in policy and decision making at all levels to allow for the development and implementation of policies, programmes and projects that fit into national priorities.
Ladies and gentlemen, to ensure the sustainability of the social dialogue mechanism in Trinidad and Tobago, my Government is committed to promoting and ensuring respect for the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, the creation of stable policies and a climate conducive for employers’ and workers’ organizations to operate freely, without fear or reprisal.
Issues of wages, productivity, unemployment, economic growth, inflation, crime and so on can all be addressed comprehensively if Government and employers’ and workers’ representatives sit together in a “non-crisis” mode within an institutionalized structure to discuss, debate, agree, disagree, compromise, and ultimately find the best solutions to our economic, social and labour market challenges.
My Government is cognizant of the fact that in embarking on the process of developing a Social Partnership Agreement, the key elements of sound social partnerships should be promoted and adhered to from the onset. These include:
• Building trust among the partners;
• Developing a structure to facilitate the Partnership;
• Focusing on long-term interests and the common good of the people of Trinidad and Tobago;
• Developing shared goals, vision, values etc.;
• Clearly identified responsibilities of the social partners in developing and implementing social pacts;
• Embracing change;
• Addressing conflict;
• Respecting differences; and
• Recognizing diversity.
Let me caution though that I am not here to offer a “perfect solution” to fix our social and economic problems overnight. As with any new system or procedure, there may be some ‘teething problems”. Indeed, there was no immediate fix to the problems of the countries that adopted social dialogue as a means of managing their social and economic problems. Their successes came from putting the process to work and reviewing and adjusting accordingly to their national circumstances with one thing in common, dialogue, that is, sitting and discussing and working together in an amicable environment to find the best possible solutions for their country.
In this regard, ladies and gentlemen, for the social dialogue process to be successful and work for the benefit of the Trinidad and Tobago, it requires a common understanding that some things must change and a willingness to make that change. This will need the support of trade unions and employers’ organisations to drive meaningfully this process of change, as we have long gone past the days of “master”, “servant” and “factories” and are today speaking of “employees”, “workers”, “partnership”, “productivity”, “social dialogue” and “decent work”.
In other words, the language has since evolved and therefore our mindsets and our actions must also evolve to embrace the new wave of tripartite relationships as we move forward. A relationship that is radically different from the one created and left by our predecessors, which is an adversarial approach to collective bargaining and sadly to say, seems to have become the prevailing culture of our society.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you that the People’s Partnership Government looks forward to sitting together with our stakeholders to chart the best course, within our constraints, for our people and the generations to come. I look do forward to working with all of you as we strive towards decent work for all, prosperity, respect for human rights and rule of law for the welfare of our society.
It is said that the main thing is to make history, not write it as women and men who make history do not have the time to write it. Winston Churchill
on the other hand said that “history will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Whether we are happy with being part of history, creating history or writing history, our very presence here today signals our acceptance of being authors of a new chapter in the history of tripartite and social partner relations in Trinidad and Tobago.
I wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Honourable Errol Mc Leod for taking the lead on this initiative. I am confident that your years of experience in the tripartite arena will redound to the benefit of us all in these deliberations.
In closing, I wish to remind us of the words of Henry Ford that “the only history that is worth anything is the history we make today.”
Thank you all for helping us to create history today as build on the platform of the present and prepare for the future.