The widespread protests of the 1930’s sparked groundbreaking industrial changes for this country. Through relentless activism, trade union leaders and their comrades rallied to bring a new working paradigm into existence. A world where workers could assert themselves and be treated with the respect and dignity rightfully deserved.
More than eight decades later, we continue to enjoy the fruits from the seeds which they sowed. It is now our shared duty as citizens, to ensure that the fight to improve labour standards is not undone, but built upon. This is a responsibility that increases considerably in the face of a global pandemic, striking at the core of labour.
Our workers are extremely vulnerable at this time, with many experiencing reduced salaries, furloughs, and even layoffs. Additionally, emergency workers on the pandemic frontlines are at severe risk of burnout. The Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME) sector has also endured its fair share of challenges given the present economic climate. Reports of child labour are also said to be on the rise.
Repairing the massive economic and psychosocial fallout demands a herculean effort. It requires the formulation of policy interventions, amongst other factors, which must take into account various competing interests. This current crisis also calls for an ongoing social dialogue, to gain a deeper understanding of the unique needs and possible solutions. It also calls for international and regional solidarity as we seek to surmount this challenge.
Most importantly, this pandemic begs for a deeper level of humanity from all of us. The Tobago House of Assembly will continue to support all those affected by these trying circumstances to the best of our ability. With the collaboration of the Central Government, relief has since included grants, soft loans, food cards, and free counselling services.
While we are still in the mire, it may be difficult to see any good that can come about from this experience. But, this challenge also gives us the opportunity to shape a more humane and digitalised workplace in the future. It is giving us a chance to reimagine and agitate for change, similar to Uriah Butler, George Weekes, APT James, Elma Francois, and many others.
I take this opportunity to extend a peaceful and reflective Labour Day to the national community of Trinidad and Tobago. We shall overcome!