Ancel Roget, virtually unchallenged as Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general since 2008, is one of the most influential figures in the local labour movement. His influence extends beyond his position in one of the country’s oldest and most powerful trade unions to the three labour confederations — the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), the National Trade Union Centre (NTAC), and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN).
From that exalted position, he has often spoken out on a range of national issues, usually as one of the loudest voices on matters related to industrial relations and politics.
The latest source of contention for Mr Roget is an amendment to the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) which gives the Liquid Fuel Company of T&T (LFCTT) the essential service designation.
This move by Government is not surprising given the crucial role of LFCTT, a subsidiary of National Petroleum Marketing Company Limited (NPMC), in providing fuel security for the country.
The company operates and manages a facility designed to hold a seven-day reserve of motor fuels and a 10-day reserve of Jet A1 fuel, so it plays an essential role in preventing disruptions and the resulting fallouts.
Mr Roget sees things differently, however, and has condemned the move as an attack on his union and workers in general.
The amendment to the IRA effectively blocks the OWTU’s application to the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board to represent LFCTT workers, as it already represents workers from another essential service, T&TEC.
That is why he is calling for Opposition and Independent senators to apply to have the amendment annulled.
Interestingly, Mr Roget’s latest gripe with the Dr Keith Rowley administration — a Government he regularly accuses of being anti-worker — has to do with an amendment to labour legislation.
Mr Roget did have an opportunity to directly influence the drafting of laws and policy development when he and other trade unionists sat on the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) with government and private sector representatives.
It was an opportunity for tripartite engagement, with the level of dialogue and consultation that could have promoted consensus building on issues of social justice, anti-discriminatory practices, and empowerment that should have been embraced by the labour movement.
There could have been huge benefits from a properly functioning national tripartite body but there has been no chance of that since March 2021, when JTUM, NATUC and FITUN withdrew from NTAC.
Mr Roget claimed then that NTAC was little more than a “surreptitious plan to silence, and get rid of trade union movements,” which is almost identical to his latest accusations about the IRA amendment.
This reflects the deeply entrenched patterns of behaviour and values of T&T’s trade union leaders, who have not evolved to keep pace with rapid changes in the labour market.
On the issue of amendments to the IRA, as with so many areas of disagreement in industrial relations, dialogue is the best route to find that elusive middle ground. However, Mr Roget and his colleagues have stubbornly refused to return to the NTAC table for their best chance of informing and influencing policy.
Working to achieve consensus, rather than resorting to the usual confrontational approach, could have yielded results. However, that doesn’t seem to be a method favoured by T&T’s labour leaders.