The 85th anniversary of organised labour in Trinidad and Tobago is being commemorated in an atmosphere of heightened anxiety and tension among workers, both unionised and non-unionised.
The upheaval of war has upended long-held assumptions, especially among workers who have lost jobs or suffered reduced income as a result of cuts in salary and hours of work, or are being weighed down by heavier workload. Work-from- home became the reality of thousands of non-essential workers, showing the pitfalls and privileges of remote work.
The global economy is stuttering and stymied in the darkness of uncertainty, instead of the expected rapid transition to recovery. The uncertainty has come to define the new normal. The 78 per cent of the national workforce who do not belong to trade unions feel the most vulnerable in the current state of economic limbo.
The mood is likely to be one of defiance at the Labour Day march in Trinidad. With the country’s largest trade unions currently engaged in negotiations with the Government’s Chief Personnel Officer, a signal of worker solidarity across entities is critical in the unions’ battle for double-digit salary increases
The dilemma facing workers and the national economy is more important than salary negotiations are.
Thanks to technology and process innovations, the structure of work laid down by the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago is undergoing massive disruption. The environmental movement spurred on by the planetary crisis of climate change has been quietly altering the 20th-century ethos of consumerism with a profound impact on the world of work The transformational nature of the change was dramatised when millions of workers around the world refused to go to work. In the new normal, the once coveted security of permanent employment is under threat by a growing preference for independent self-employment among women.
According to a survey conducted by the Prosperity Project in Canada, nine out of ten women want most or part of their work to be done remotely, while 45% would quit if they had to work full-time. There is anecdotal evidence that this shift is occurring here in T&T. Stress avoidance, family priorities, and the need to earn higher incomes from multiple sources are some of the things that include these.
Changes that come with rewards and risks are what the future of work will demand. The challenge for everyone is to understand and take control of change.