Today we celebrate Republic Day in commemoration of the adoption of the Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. However, it is essential that we approach this occasion with sombre reflection. Our constitution may have been designed with great promise, but inherently embedded in it are regulations which allow the ruling class to tilt the balance of the socioeconomic scales in its favour and exert a high degree of control over the citizenry, and even more so over public officers.
The creation of the Public Service Commission and the accompanying regulations render our public servants as modern-day slaves. It forbids public officers from taking industrial action, such as striking for fair wages, safer working conditions, and improved terms and conditions of employment. It forbids public officers from speaking out against government policies that are antithetical to the interests of the country. It effectively allows for the restraining of collective action and the undermining of the fundamentals of collective bargaining. These controls are being exploited like never before, much to the detriment of public officers, and limits the unions’ strategies to confront the myriad of injustices perpetrated against public officers. The hindrances to collective bargaining have contributed to the impoverishment of our dedicated public servants, led to substandard working conditions, and resulted in a decline in the efficiency and quality of services provided to our citizens.
As we commemorate Republic Day, let us confront this truth. Our constitution, once a symbol of hope in 1976, has become an albatross around the necks of public officers. We must strive for a constitutional framework that upholds the principles of freedom, justice, and equality, allowing our public servants to exercise their rights and engage in collective bargaining without fear of retribution. We must aim for a constitution that strengthens the public service, one than ensures that the public service is independent and free from political and other outside interests. We need a constitution that ensures freedom of association, freedom to engage in collective bargaining and the right to take collective action. We must strive for a constitution that allows public officers to perform meaningful, permanent work in a safe, healthy, productive environment with ample avenues for redress when faced with victimization, political or otherwise. A reformed constitution must contain robust mechanisms to allow public officers to have their grievances resolved in a timely fashion while serious sanctions are imposed on those perpetrators of abuse of power and corrupt practices.
In honouring Republic Day, we acknowledge both our progress and our challenges. This day serves as a reminder that our journey toward a just and equitable society is ongoing. Let us unite in our commitment to reform, advocate for change, and work diligently to create a constitution that empowers rather than oppresses.