Today is Labour Day 2021, eighty-four years to the day of the Butler Oilfield Riots which proved to be a watershed in the history of the trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago. The names Tubal Uriah Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi and Andrew Arthur Cipriani loom large in national memory as unwavering advocates of fair wages, improved working conditions and job security. They, among many others, are credited for the strength of the present-day labour movement and the advances made to workers’ rights since 1937, however, many of those grievances persist to the present day and additionally must now be viewed through the lens of Covid-19.

The cascading effects of the pandemic on the economy, jobs, income and standard of living have left many workers, employers and business owners deeply concerned about the future. Trade unions now face one of the greatest challenges in their history and must find ways to shepherd their members through these uncertain times. While they continue to advocate for matters traditionally at the forefront of worker’s minds—job security, reliable income and safe working conditions—they must also reinvent their strategies and tactics in order to be relevant in the post-Covid world, and ready themselves to tackle new and unprecedented considerations including the issue of mandatory vaccinations, compliance of workplaces to changing covid-19 regulations and the guidelines governing work from home. Previous adversarial tactics and sticking points have to give way to cooperation and compromise to pave a clear path to the resolution of these evolving labour issues which will continue well past the return to normalcy.

For labour to thrive, employers and staff must join forces to create working conditions that are both robust and responsive to the ever-changing global environment. Employees who are offered the opportunity to work from home will have to learn to self-regulate to meet required targets on time. Those who are in the office expect to be provided with the basic protections, equipment and policies that will safeguard them from the virus, for example, appointment systems, delivery or online services, and the provision of hand sanitisers and masks. Many are ready and willing to be vaccinated in order to return to productive work and I thank those employers who have collaborated in the current vaccination thrust to bring some measure of relief and protection to their workers.

Workers—whether public servant, private sector or self-employed—have ensured throughout this pandemic that the wheels of the national machinery continue to turn. They have borne the brunt of this crisis, many putting their mental and physical health and wellbeing on the line. I salute in particular the frontline workers—healthcare providers, social service workers, members of the national security corps, supermarket and pharmacy workers—many of whom have not broken stride since the onset of the pandemic. Glowing reports of your professionalism, compassion and sterling work ethic have come from all quarters and lifted the collective national spirit.

This year’s celebrations will be muted as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, but the sacrifices of the workers who came before as well as those who steer us forward now, will forever resonate in the hearts of all citizens.

I wish the national community a safe and happy Labour Day.