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PM’s Labour Day 2024 Message

Message to the Nation from The Honourable Dr. Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for Labour Day 2024





Today, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago celebrates Labour Day as a public holiday in recognition of the patriots of 1937 and all those who labour in service of others. We salute those who continued the struggle over the past decades, for the recognition of labour; and those, at present, who continue to assert the rights of workers.

It is this country’s way of acknowledging, specifically, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, and all the patriots of that era including Adrian Cola Rienzi, who stood side by side in the crucible against the colonial authorities. Labour produced the household names of George Weekes, Nathaniel Crichlow, Francis Mungroo and Elma Francois.

Greetings today are from the Government and people of our Republic, my family and myself as Prime Minister.

We must remember that our country ranks among the world’s first oil producers. Our first successful oil well was drilled in 1866 in Aripero, in the then colony by Walter Darwent, and commercial production began here in 1908.

By the 1930s, Trinidad was established as an oil-producing colony, but the real benefits of our island’s resources were not felt among the labouring masses. Outside the walls of the employer class, workers were forced to survive in poor health, on meagre wages, and in the squalor and poverty that was widespread.

The colony’s production reached ten million barrels per year, alongside a refining capacity that allowed oil to be imported from Venezuela. Workers, however, felt excluded from those achievements, and worse, suffered the on-the-job contempt of employers.

By the late 1930s workers were organising themselves into labour unions, creating a new climate of negotiations in industrial relations, which was formalised in the 1960s with the establishment of an Industrial Court, as the arbiter.

The labour movement, however, faces some major challenges today, not only in this country but worldwide.

Many industries across the globe are either being restructured radically or closed permanently, as workers are facing competition from technological marvels.

The world of work is not only being re-calibrated but re-invented with a surge of corporate investment by major big tech companies, into generative AI (artificial intelligence). These emerging developments will have tremendous socio-economic implications for our own workplace.

We have seen the psycho-social impact AI has had on the jobs and lives of factory workers. The impact is being revealed gradually among “knowledge workers” — accountants, lawyers, engineers, architects, bankers, teachers, etc., whose jobs are not just being reformatted, but some made redundant. The counterargument is framed that AI is unleashing new levels of productivity and greater efficiencies. Here there is potential for great improvement alongside the possibility of frightening abuse.

Worldwide, it is being concluded that no area in either the public or private sectors will remain untouched or immune to automation with its speed, deftness and wide reach. It is only a matter of time before the present guardrails in the workplace are changed and generative AI, with its enormous capacity for data, pattern recognition, and automation capabilities, forces a new mix and style of work.

This will be a challenge for everyone –the employer, the employee, the labour movement, the government, indeed the entire society.

One prediction is that it will be just another fork in the road, and generative AI should be understood as a complement to human ingenuity, from which our society will benefit, overall. At worst this could easily be cold comfort to the helpless.

The real challenge for all stakeholders – management, government, labour, is to confront these and other emerging 21st-century realities with cooperation, respect, wisdom and understanding.

Today, as we salute the Labour Movement and compliment its leaders, past and present, the Government stands as a willing partner, recognising that there are no adversaries, just different perspectives all in the mix for the further development of Trinidad and Tobago.

In all of these expressions over history, the one thing that remains constant is change. Let us be ready, be open to learning and not be temperamental in our ways.

Let us all celebrate Labour Day 2024.

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