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Trinidad and Tobago need to
stamp out child labour and distrimination against women, says union report

ICFTU Online..., 247/981113/DD, 13 November 1998

Brussels November 13 1998 (ICFTU OnLine): An ICFTU report out today says that Trinidad and Tobago must take steps to stop the growing use of child labour and to prevent women being discriminated against at work.

The international trade union report on labour standards in this Caribbean country produced today to complement the World Trade Organisation's trade review, has studied the country's compliance with international labour standards, and found a number of areas in which it falls short.

Child Labour

The report found that Trinidad and Tobago had not ratified the International Labour Organisation's Convention 138 on the minimum age of employment. The country's minimum legal age is only 12 years as opposed to the Convention's stipulated 15 years - particularly inexcusable in an oil-rich country which is situated in the category of "upper middle-income developing countries". The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has drawn attention to Trinidad and Tobago's increasing use of child workers in the informal sector, particularly those working as street sellers. Children are often seen begging and significant numbers of them become involved in criminal activities as a result.

While legally education is free and compulsory for children up to age 12, government spending is too low to provide adequate standards in many schools and there is overcrowding.

Sexual and Racial Discrimination

Although the country's 1976 Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind, there is no legislation which guarantees equal opportunities in employment in the private sector nor any law requiring equal pay for equal work, and there has been an increase in the numbers of complaints of discrimination against employing women or in selecting them for promotion.

The number of women in the workforce has increased to 33 percent, but there are still far more men in administrative and managerial positions. In fact the government itself has placed obstacles in the way of women working in the public service, as married female officials may be dismissed if their family obligations stop them working efficiently, a rule which does not apply to male married officials. There has also been some evidence of racial and ethnic discrimination in recruitment in both the public services, and the private sectors.

Basic Trade Union Rights

While trade union rights to form a trade union, and to negotiate with an employer are enshrined in Trinidad and Tobago's law, which prohibits anti-union activities, and employers who are found guilty of anti-trade union activities can be taken to court, there have been instances where the government has intervened using legislation to prevent strikes. Workers in essential services are not allowed to strike, and the government has set its own definition of what could be deemed an essential area, for example, the teaching profession, which is clearly not "essential". The concept of essential services should therefore be redefined to bring the country in line with international labour norms, says the ICFTU.


The ICFTU says that the country should take immediate steps to establish the full respect of basic labour standards in all areas. In the sphere of child labour, it should raise its minimum age for employment to 15 years or over, improve labour inspections to prevent young children working and increase funding for education to improve provision.

It says that the government should take positive action measures to stop discrimination against women workers, as well as amending its own legislation which penalises married women in the public services.

The ICFTU has produced its own reports on each country which has been the subject of a WTO trade policy review because it considers that the respect of core labour standards should form part of the trade-related issues which are discussed at the WTO Trade Policy Review meetings. It says that the WTO should remind Trinidad and Tobago of the promise it made at the WTO Ministerial Meetings in Singapore and in Geneva to observe internationally recognised labour standards.

The Report can be found on this Website. Click here.

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Luc Demaret on: 00 322 224 0212 - press@icftu.org