CWU gets court stay as TSTT plans to cut 468 workers

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has obtained a stay on the retrenchment for 468 Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) workers who were given retrenchment notices by the State-owned company yesterday.

CWU secretary general Clyde Elder said the union sought an injunction after receiving a letter from TSTT, together with a flash drive containing over 3,400 pages of notices to members that they were effectively retrenched from June 1.

He said the union argued that the move by TSTT was not in compliance with the laws of T&T and with proper industrial relations practices, and that the court agreed just before 8 pm on Tuesday to grant the stay of retrenchment.

Elder said the court set June 14 as the day for the continuation of the hearing on the matter and has advised TSTT that it cannot engage in any retrenchment of members of the bargaining units.

He said the union’s argument was that according to the Industrial Relations Act, TSTT needed to give 45 days’ notice of retrenchment, adding although the company sought to pay workers for 45 days in lieu of the time period required for the notice, the union did not accept this to be legal.

“Those acts by the company were illegal, wrong and needed to be challenged and we were able to challenge that successfully,” Elder said.

He said the union also asked the court to rule that workers should not report to work today but that the court instead said the workers will be allowed to turn up to work but can also choose not to.

The union must provide TSTT with a list of workers who will choose not to work pending the outcome of the matter and the workers cannot be forced by the company in any direction.

Elder said the company did not have prior discussions with the union on its decision to pay the workers in lieu of notices.

“That did not come up in any way at all during our discussions,” he said.

He added that the mood of the workers is now one of disenchantment with the company.

“People are feeling hurt because years they gave the company amounted to nothing. They have been shown no dignity by the company,” Elder said.

He said the union has also rejected TSTT’s justification for the retrenchment exercise as one of ‘sustainability’.

“Since 2018, TSTT said that this measure will cause sustainability for the company. Here we are saying the same thing again,” he said, adding that a definition for madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

“TSTT has to be mad,” he said.

“There will be more work for less people to do and there will be fallouts from that.”

In a release yesterday, TSTT confirmed 468 employees will be sent home as it commences its restructuring exercise.

“Of this number, 403 employees, comprising a mix of junior and senior staff and estate police officers will, in keeping with the collective agreements with their representative unions, each receive payment in lieu of the regulatory 45 days’ notice,” TSTT said.

TSTT noted that the move was aimed at positioning the company for sustainability/profitability.

“The need to restructure TSTT is urgent and critical, necessitated both by the impact of challenging economic conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic effect of changes in technology on the company’s operation and performance,” the company said.

Elder explained that the sweeping move was not surprising but noted the alleged breach in the law was a cause for concern.

TSTT CEO Lisa Agard said the company had no option but to restructure to remain competitive, adding the company was moving to adopt a model that was more in line with current industry benchmarks.

“Given our challenges, TSTT has no option but to restructure to remain competitive. We are moving to an operating model that is more in line with industry benchmarks, and one that will enable us to adapt and evolve with the constant developments in technology. This is our only option if we are to return to sustainable profitability,” Agard said.

In the financial year ended March 31, 2021, the company said the pandemic, coupled with economic and technological factors, had led to a $453 million fall in revenue—18 per cent less than the prior year.

Back in March 2022, a Cabinet sub-committee led by Camille Robinson-Regis was tasked with reviewing the company and making recommendations on its future.

The loss-making entity acknowledged that it began consultations with stakeholders on the restructuring exercise earlier this year.

“On January 17, 2022, TSTT invited its employee representative unions to consultations regarding the proposed restructuring and refinement of its operating/business model. Consultations with employees and the representative majority unions, including the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) and Estate Police Association (EPA), began on February 1 and were conducted in good faith and in line with best industrial relations practice. The company engaged with the RMUs and its employees by meeting virtually and by exchange of communication on matters related to the need for change, the rationale for the proposed structure and its staffing,” the company said in its statement.

TSTT is jointly owned by the government and Cable and Wireless Communications.

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