Human Resource and Industrial Relations Essay
Human Resource and Industrial Relations
In many Commonwealth Caribbean Countries since the early 1960’s, there have been attempts at Public Sector Reform by replacing the traditional system of Public Administration with what is commonly known as New Public Management and to this day, the successful implementation of such structural adjustment attempts have evaded most Governments who have dared to try. It was evident, however, that there were differences in the way each country attempted to introduce NPM. Jamaica and Barbados, for example, adhered rigorously to the primary tenets of NPM and Trinidad and Tobago by implementing some measures but not others. Human resource management (HRM) is a term which is now widely used but very loosely defined. It should be defined in such a way as to differentiate it from traditional personnel management and to allow the development of testable hypotheses about its impact. Based on theoretical work in the field of organizational behaviour it is proposed that HRM comprises a set of policies designed to maximize organizational integration, employee commitment, flexibility and quality of work. Within this model, collective industrial relations have, at best, only a minor role.
Despite the apparent attractions of HRM to managements, there is very little evidence of any quality about its impact or that of New Public Management. However, the purpose of this paper is to review and analyze some of the different approaches to Human Resource Management, New Public Management and Industrial Relations initiatives used in Trinidad and Tobago and the extent to which the introduction of a “new” model of management in the public sector has led to a realignment in the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between the policy-makers, the bureaucracy, civil society and Trade Unions in Trinidad and Tobago. In addition, mentioning the work of two (2) well accomplished local minds who have contributed to the study of Public Sector Reform and Industrial Relations. Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations (HRIR) is a multidisciplinary area that investigates all aspects of employment relations in the public and private sector. Modern organisations increasingly regard staff as their most valuable asset and a chief source of competitive advantage. Consequently, they attach great importance to how they manage people. Successful management of employment relations is vital if employees are to be motivated and organisations are to be successful.
The Human resource management (HRM) side encompasses the governance of an organization’s employees and is sometimes referred to simply as human resources (HR). It is the people who work for the organization and human resource management is really employee management with an emphasis on those employees as assets of the business. Areas of HRM oversight include employee recruitment and retention, exit interviews, motivation, assignment selection, labor law compliance, performance reviews, training, professional development, mediation, change management and some extent of Industrial Relations. Industrial relations, which is sometimes called labour-management relations is a professional area of activity and is multidisciplinary, drawing from several academic areas such as law, economics, psychology, sociology and organizational theory. The field of Industrial relations also similarly encompasses the relationships between employers and employees, between employees and other employees, between employers and their unions and advisors, between employees and their unions, between workplaces in the labour market, the environment created by historical, political, legal and social forces, cultural norms as well as the products of the industrial relations systems including industrial action, collective agreements, grievance handling and other problem-solving mechanisms.
Since the 1990’s, there has been the need to transition from the traditional Public Administration (PA) to New Public Management (NPM) and the implementation of NPM ideas are closely related to Human Resources (HR) in public institutions. In order to achieve a consistent shift, a lot of attention has been devoted to the reconstruction of Human Resource Management (HRM) as well as the improvement in the quality of Industrial Relations in Trinidad and Tobago that has become necessary due to the increasing frequency of strikes and other industrial action related to negotiations for new collective agreements. The first of the two (2) Authors who’s work are being mentioned and have made valid contributions to the field of Public Sector Reform is Dr. Ann-Marie Bissessar, a well accomplished Senior Lecturer in the Behavioural Sciences Department, University of the West Indies. Dr. Bissessar in one of her many writings entitled. “The changing nexus of power in the new public sector management of Trinidad and Tobago”, examines the extent to which the introduction of a “new” model of management in the public sector has led to a realignment of the bureaucracy and civil society in Trinidad and Tobago. The document suggests that the introduction of new public management in the public services of Trinidad and Tobago has led to changes in the structure, culture and functioning of the public sector.
Doctor Bissessar argues that while there were tensions between the politician and the administrator during the post-independence period these were, to a large extent, kept in check by the rules and regulations that were part and parcel of the traditional method of administration. The introduction of principles of new public management in 1991 and the stress on greater autonomy and a more “fluid” bureaucratic arrangement, however, have fundamentally altered the power relationships between the politician and the administrator so that the division between the political sphere and the administrative sphere has become increasingly blurred. With respect to the civil society, concludes that with the exception of certain non-governmental organizations, the wider civil society continues to have a minimal input in either policy formulation or execution. Writing along the same lines of thought was Dr. Roodal Moonilal in his one of his articles entitled, “A note on the Human Resource Management and its Diffusion”. Doctor Moonilal, wrote that the notion of HRM is difficult to pin down with one definition and that is has central concerns with issues of quality, productivity, safety and the efficient use of materials.
Other features include sub-contracting, re-deployment of labour, individual contracts and external forms of flexibility and much of the human relations school. He took from the work of Allan Fox, who articulated two categories or frames of reference within which to conceptualise workplace industrial relations. He stated that Fox outlined a unitary frame of reference which stressed the importance of a common objective for the enterprise, with one source of authority and one focus of loyalty, all participants have the same basic aim and all aspire to share in the rewards which will accrue from the attainment of this aim. Conflict within this framework is denied, as Fox states, “the doctrine of common purpose and harmony of interests implies that apparent conflict is either (a) merely frictional, e.g. due to incompatible personalities or “things going wrong”, or (b) caused by faulty “communications”, e.g. “misunderstandings” about aims or methods, or (c) the result of stupidity in the form of failure to grasp the communality of interest, or (d) the work of agitators inciting the supine majority who would otherwise be content” (1966:12). Improving human relations and communications are said to be the appropriate methods to avoid conflict which is seen as the result of poor social relations.
In the unitary frame the presence of trade unions is seen as an “intrusion” into the private, peaceful and unified structure, they compete “illegitimately” for control over, and the loyalty of, the employees and are considered “foreign and alien” to the private affairs of the company. Foxs’ work also identified a “pluralist” frame which accepts that an enterprise contains groups with a variety of different interests, aims and aspirations and it is therefore a coalition of different interests rather than the embodiment of one common goal. In the pluralist enterprise conflict is normal, expected and should not be suppressed but the aim must be to keep it within accepted bounds to prevent the destruction of the enterprise. The article also states that if HRM can be located conceptually within the unitary ideology in the 1960s, it must also be traced to forms of strategic industrial relations adopted during the very period. The emergence of productivity bargaining defined as “an exchange of higher wages for more work, or the same wages in less time, or for greater flexibility and mobility of labour was seen as an earlier attempt by management to give direction to industrial relations.
By the late 1970s external forces placed a focus on HRM in the academic and professional circuits as well as a wide range of features and dramatically contrasting reports on its implementation, impact and implications. The article also stressed the need for Total Quality Management (TQM) and that the historical labour-management distrust and war in industrial relations has no place in Human Resource Management while stating that there are however characteristics of HRM which can threaten the functioning of traditional trade unionism. Dr. Moonilal states that even though some features of HRM can threaten the Union, they can only endanger a Union if it is weak at the shop floor level with a membership which is immobilized and lacking faith in the collective action and skill in representation. The Practitioners of industrial relations were said to be trade union officers, human resource managers, conciliators, mediators, labour department officials and project managers, among others.
The main focus of industrial relations is on people in the workplace, whether such a workplace is a large transnational organization, or a small family firm, whether those employed are on a contract of service or on a contract for service; and whether or not a union is involved at the workplace. Indeed, industrial relations can exist even where collective agreements do not materialize.
Like most islands in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago emerged from colonization in the early 1960s extremely poor and with an economy structured around resource exports. Trinidad and Tobago’s tremendous growth spurt slowed, and the economy entered a ten-year period of sluggish growth and had become urbanized, many belonging to the middle class, a situation unknown in most developing countries. As economic growth slowed, increased demands were voiced for adequate housing, better labor rights, more jobs, improved living and working conditions, more equitable distribution of wealth, and national ownership of resources. Despite these demands, the socioeconomic problems present in Trinidad and Tobago were hardly as acute as in other Caribbean countries; nonetheless, such issues as negative attitudes toward foreign ownership tended to dominate. Led by the charismatic and intellectual Eric Williams since its independence in 1962, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, like people throughout the region, hoped and expected that political independence would bring not only dignity but economic improvement.
The moderate growth Trinidad and Tobago had been experiencing resulted in some gains for the population. During this time, the islands’ labor force was highly unionized and the industrial relations climate in Trinidad and Tobago was growing tense with the development of the trade union movement. There was an increasing number of strikes and labour disputes which threatened the economic growth and productivity of the country. The Public Service employees were described as being indolent, inefficient and corrupt and it was impossible to discipline anyone or reform the service. So, It was said that the Public Service no longer attracted the best. The Government of the day could no longer delay in taking legislative action to regulate the relations between unions, workers and employers and there was an urgent need for change and the role of government in the economy increased drastically during the 1960s. The year 1962 was actually when the first step in the development of the collective bargaining process in Trinidad and Tobago was taken in November of that year, just three (3) months after the country obtained Independence from the British in 1962.
An agreement was signed by the Secretary to Cabinet at the time on behalf of the Government and by the leadership of the Civil Service Association, the recognized representative for Civil Servants. It established a Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal with the power to decide issues remaining unresolved between the Government and the Association. The Tribunal was designed to function on an “Ad Hoc” basis and under the Whitley Council System, the Colonial Secretary and subsequently, the Secretary to Cabinet discussed matters relating to the Terms and Conditions of employments in the Civil Service with the Executive of the Civil Service Association .However, the right to approve of not approve any agreements reached was reserved to the Governor General after Independence.
The relationship then changed between the Government and the Association and by extension the Civil Service, by bringing an end to the virtually absolute authority previously exercised by the Government. The next phase of Collecting Bargaining was achieved in 1966 when Parliament passed the Civil Service Act as Act No. 29 of 1965. This Act which came into force on August 27, 1966 provided for an effective system of Collective Bargaining referred to in the Act as consultation and Negotiation. The Act established the Personnel Department of Government which was headed by the Chief Personnel Officer and staffed by Civil Servants to; maintain the class of Civil Servants and keep under review the remuneration payable to them, administer the general regulations respecting the Civil Servants, provide for and establish procedures for consultation between the Personnel Department and an any Association in respect to classification of officers, any grievances and Terms and Conditions of Employment of Civil Servants. Those aspects of the employment relationship which could not be left to collective bargaining such as employee health and safety, minimum age of employment and workers’ compensation, retrenchment and severance benefits and maternity leave are set down in legislation which bind the State and private employers.
As a result the Industrial Stabilisation Act, 1965, was enacted. This Act introduced the concept of compulsory arbitration to Trinidad and Tobago by the establishment of the Industrial Court. The main function of this Court was to intervene to prevent and settle industrial disputes between employers and their union represented workers. The Industrial Stabilisation Act was later repealed and replaced by the Industrial Relations Act, 1972, Chapter 88:01 of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago to provide for the following: free collective bargaining between employer and workers through their representative associations, the development of a peaceful and expeditious procedure for the settlement of disputes, the establishment of the Industrial Court, the recognition and registration of trade unions, the freedom to be represented by a trade union and the right not to associate, and industrial action which may be taken by both employer and employee. In addition, Provision was made for a Tripartite industrial relations advisory committee which had the responsibility of reviewing the IRA and making recommendations to the Minister of Labour. This way the Act kept up with industrial relations trends.
The general industrial relations policy in Trinidad and Tobago was based on voluntary collective bargaining between employers and workers, via their representative associations, for the settlement of terms and conditions of employment. While the Government has ratified several ILO Conventions, including the Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144), these Conventions only become effective when they are legislatively implemented. A 144 Tripartite Committee, comprising all of the social partners, trade unions, employers, and Government, in operation in Trinidad and Tobago with the responsibility of considering and recommending the ratification of ILO Conventions. State employees included all civil servants, teachers and members of the Protective Services (Fire, Police and Prison Services). The employment relationship between the State and its employees was governed generally by legislation, which made provisions for terms and conditions of employment including recruitment, hours of work, leave entitlements, payment of remuneration, pensions, allowances and other benefits.
There was legislation which dealt specifically with each group, such as the Civil Service Act, Chap 23:01 for all civil servants, the Police Service Act, Chap. 15:01, as revised by the Police Service Bill (2003), the Fire Service Act, Chap. 35:50 and the Education Act, Chap 39:01 for teachers. The representative associations of monthly paid State employees may bargain collectively with the Chief Personnel Officer, who is deemed to be the employer of State employees under the IRA. The subject of these negotiations include wage increases, travelling and other allowances and leave entitlements. Other legislations were as follow: The Occupational Safety and Health Act – Sets standards for employee health and safety at the workplace The Workmen’s Compensation Act or the Employment Injury and Disability Benefits Bill – Provides compensation where employees are injured on the job Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act – Guarantees the payment of severance pay to retrenched employees. The Maternity Protection Act – Provides maternity leave and related benefits to female employees
In December 1991 a new government was elected in Trinidad and Tobago. It soon embarked on an ambitious programme of public sector reform under the overall direction of Gordon Draper as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Public Administration and Public Information. The programme drew directly on the NPM paradigm and sought to deliver decentralised management, improved morale and productivity, improved human resource management, improved quality of service and delivery, and improved budgeting and accounting systems. The details of the programme were set out in detail in a publication of the MTSD as A Profile of the Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago (Commonwealth Secretariat 1995). It covered seven areas, three of which were elaborated in some detail. The first was ‘making the most of staff’ through training and development, the establishment of ‘change teams’ within ministries to lead reform, new systems of performance appraisal, and improving work performance by upgrading accommodation and developing an employee assistance programme.
The second focused on ‘making government more efficient’ through the introduction of strategic planning, improving productivity via computerisation, contracting out services, redundancy management, and conducting comprehensive audits, a view also shared by Dr. Bissessar and Dr. Moonilal as mentioned previously. The third area, ‘improving policy analysis and co-ordination’, was to be achieved by creating standing committees of Cabinet in vital areas for national economic development, improving policy presentation in the media, and creating more mechanisms for public consultation on national development. The other areas addressed the quality of public services, partnerships with the private sector and non-government organisations, effective management and the management of finance. It was a comprehensive vision and some of the ideas, mechanisms and procedures set forth in it have since been adopted by other Caribbean countries in their programmes of reform.
In Trinidad and Tobago, however, it ran into difficulties. One was over the powers and responsibilities of the Public Service Commission (PSC). The reforms proposed their reduction and rationalisation, with many of them being exercised by ministries and other public agencies in accordance with the more decentralised management principles of NPM. These were resisted by the PSC, which claimed that the government was unfairly blaming them for failures in the public service. They also questioned the introduction of private sector values into the very different ethos of the public service (Trinidad and Tobago 1995). Another was the proposal to establish human resource units in ministries which would have seriously weakened the Personnel Department. A number of ministries submitted plans but there was much delay in implementation reducing the effectiveness of the reform. Other changes in this area, such as performance appraisal, also met employee resistance, suggesting a strong cultural resistance to change. However, on the one hand, public servants supported change which was beneficial to them “such as training, pay increases, systems of career path planning and enhanced opportunities”.
On the other, they were “afraid of change” which was in any way radical, rather than incremental, since they equated it with “retrenchment and downsizing” which would threaten their jobs and erode their tenure. In such circumstances it is not surprising that many were “openly hostile to suggestions for further reform”. In the face of such opposition, and also a lessening of commitment to micro-manage change by the political leadership, the reform programme slowly ground to a halt. The role of the state in development has come under challenge. The reasons for this include the fiscal crises that hit most developing countries in the 1980s, weakening the ability of the state to fund development programmes; the stabilisation and structural adjustment policies that followed, which imposed reductions in the role and size of government and an increase in the scope and activities of the private sector; and the elaboration, from the beginning of the 1990s, of programmes of ‘good governance’ which aimed to build ‘an effective state’ through matching a state’s role to its capability, which required a sharper focus on fundamentals, and raising state capability by reinvigorating public institutions. In the achievement of these last set of activities sweeping public sector reform was to be encouraged.
The impact of such programmes on the developing world has been the subject of much comment. In the case of small states it raised particular difficulties. The public sector tends to be proportionately bigger and its responsibility for delivering services across a wide range of activities greater than in many larger countries. There were thus serious questions about any proposal to reduce the role of the state. At the same time the need for public sector reform was acknowledged in many small states. The New Public Sector Management (NPSM) is the transfer of business and market principles and management processes from the private sector into the public service itself, or outsourcing government activities to the special purpose companies owned by a government or even to the private sector. There is or has been no empirical evidence that NPSM reforms of the public service or outsourcing have led to productivity increases or public welfare improvements even by private sector standards. This is because there are basic problems implicit in the NPSM model which derive from the fact that the aims of the public service differ from those of the private sector. The private sector is about competition and maximizing profits.
The proponents of NPSM seek to treat the public as though they are consuming private sector goods and services. The use of these business techniques in the delivery of public functions constricts the accomplishment of the basic tenets of the state: democracy, regularity, transparency and due process, which are surely more important than perceived efficiency and speed. With regards to its impact on the Industrial Relations System, traditionally, trade unions in the Caribbean, in negotiating wages and conditions of employment for their members, have resorted to the confrontational approach to settle outstanding issues. In the early days of trade unionism, this approach was extremely successful and was effectively used. It can be said that employers were cognizant of the close relationship that existed between the political leaders in most of the Caribbean islands and the trade union leaders. In some instances, they were one and the same person. As the countries became independent and the impact of adverse economic circumstances began to be felt, employers in both the public sector and private sector responded by resorting to taking tough economic decisions.
Invariably, these decisions focused on the way in which wage increases were negotiated, the level of these increases and the impact which they had on government finances and on profits at the level of the enterprise. As a consequence, collective bargaining took a new turn as trade unions were forced to examine seriously their approach to the preparation of proposals and the presentation of their case. At the same time, alternative approaches to confrontation were examined and in some instances adopted. Social dialogue has been developed by the ILO as one of the alternative approaches recommended to the social partners (governments, employers and trade unions). A number of studies on best practices in selected enterprises in the Caribbean are being developed to demonstrate how effective social dialogue can be in increasing productivity and in keeping with the New Public Management approaches. However, it seems to me that there has been increasingly forceful moves by trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago over the past few years to influence national policies and issues. This may be out of frustrated expectations which originate from political and economic circumstances.
Whatever the reason, it is has begun to have a negative impact on the workers they represent and the wider society. If this situation is not addressed it may very well deteriorate and there will be unintended adverse consequences, including loss of employment opportunities and declining standards of living for those whose interests should be served by the unions. The principal stakeholders must re-examine their contributions to the current state of affairs and resolve to bring about the necessary transformation. We need to start the process of change now and even though it would be time consuming, it must be done. It requires an understanding of the realities of the global economy and the imperative for small economies such as ours to survive and in the longer term, to prosper. Trinidad and Tobago has been in a more fortunate position due to our rich hydrocarbon industry and prices being unexpectedly high. However, this should not be the basis of planning sustainable economic growth and development. The future requires all the social partners to work together, replacing confrontation by cooperation and collaboration. This can only be accomplished if there are suitable multipartite mechanisms established by the government and adhered to by all stakeholders (government, labour, private sector and civil society) whereby meaningful consultation leads to consensus on common objectives and the strategies by which these can be achieved.
There must be a major paradigm shift from dependency on oil and gas revenues to support artificially high employee compensation without regard for productivity. There can be no justification for such irrational approaches to industrial relations. It is time to adopt new methods of resolving issues and to put the issue of pay for performance and productivity on the front burner. The era of ‘might is right’ is a luxury we can no longer afford. We need to usher in a new dispensation of enlightened industrial relations to create a truly developed society. Relations between companies and unions need to shift from being adversarial to one of co-operation and it is critical for both parties, union and management to jointly address the competitive pressures and to work together to harness the skills and the commitment of the workforce. The manufacturing and public sectors in many countries have been the traditional base of support for trade unions. They are now experiencing considerable difficulties in maintaining and increasing membership. It is the hope of many that the Government will begin the process of getting the economy back on its feet. In doing so, there is always the potential for increased agitation by trade unions that could ultimately lead to Industrial action where their demands for double digit wage increases cannot be met by the Government.
Such a situation can also impact the industrial relations environment across the private sector where unionization is concentrated, particularly along the East-West Corridor. There is also, the perception among many in society that our industrial relations climate will become increasingly adversarial. Employers are more weary of unionization today more than ever before given the current approach to negotiations and dispute resolution by certain trade unions. This is most unfortunate since these very employers accept that trade unions have a critical role to play in shaping industrial relations in our country and facilitating an economic recovery. It goes without saying that industrial action in any form and by anyone can lead to huge disruptions, losses in production and ultimately adverse long-term economic consequences if unchecked and properly regulated. The problem is that much of the current legislation and regulation governing industrial action was formulated back in the 1960’s and at a time when there were no legislative safeguards and specified minimum working conditions. On the other hand, the situation is very different today.
Today, most workers enjoy legislative protections in areas ranging from unfair dismissals to minimum wages, maternity leave and severance benefits. It is important to note that in the 1960s trade union membership was more than twice as much as it is now and industrial relations was more about power relations hence the prevalence of adversarial relationships between employers and workers. Today, this too has changed somewhat and great strides have been made to encourage tripartism, social dialogue and labour management co-operation. The movement towards human capital as the major investment for competitive advantage has greatly accelerated. Improved communication of total reward packages through face-to-face meetings, total reward statements and flexible benefits have in most workplaces replaced indirect forms of communication and the significance of basic pay in the overall remuneration package.
The one (1) major area that needed to be addressed was the Industrial Court, which was noted to have served the country will but has not been perfect in its judgments. Many have questioned whether there is a need for the Industrial Court as some of its judgments have been criticized. In a report submitted to Errol McLeod, Minister of Labour, Small and Micro Development Enterprises on July 29, 2013 by the Industrial Relations Advisement Report Committee, it stated twenty-five (25) recommendations for changes needed within the Industrial Relations Sector. The report stated that there is a need to ensure that the Industrial Court is examined and brought up to a more modern constitution, since there have been no direct changes in the Labour Relations Sector for decades.
There are issues with the tenure of Judges, Independence of the Court, Migrant Law, Minimum Wages, Maternity Protection, Work men’s Compensation Ordinance and Retrenchment and Severance Pay. It was also stated that the Collective Bargaining process must be done in a more timely basis. The Industrial Relations Advisement Report Committee also stressed in their extensive report that it was crucial to the Industrial Relations Sector that all twenty-five (25) recommendations made be addressed. With this in mind, it is clear that what our industrial relations system needs now is a modernized legal framework which is relevant to changes in working life, modern human resource management practices and technological advancement. It also needs a proper functioning Industrial Court to preside over all its matters.
RECOMMENDATION AND CONCLUSION
While several attempts have also been made in the past to improve the operations of the Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago, the challenges associated with Human Resource Management and its evolution into New Public Management, accountability, information and technology, communication technology, leadership systems and the systems of laws and procedures continue to occur. The culture of the Public Service has been one referred to as too “laid back” and that any diversion from the “status quo” is frowned upon and resisted. There needs to be collaboration between key central agencies to facilitate their acceptance of the fact that change is needed and accept the relevant responsibilities. Governments need to properly formulate and oversee the implementation of comprehensive change management strategies and have a robust legislative analysis of these changes.
Provisions must be created to ensure effective implementation and review, communication and networking within and among various Ministries and Departments. There also needs to be a strengthening of the Civil Service and administrative components of Public Service Reform, providing them with a better frame work and indicator set. More attention must be given to the budget execution phases of Financial Management and sufficient resources must be allocated to ensure that the officers can perform at their best and with a sense of urgency. With all this in mind, it is quite obvious that any kind or nature of Reform is a work in progress.
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