A First Step Toward Strengthening Domestic Workers’ Cooperatives in Trinidad and Tobago

Actualité | 16 juin 2016
National Union Domestic Workers (NUDE) Members and in the centre Ms Vanessa Bransburg
In Trinidad and Tobago, domestic work (estimated at 30,000 employees by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago) is a growing sector. The members of the National Union of Domestic Workers (NUDE) formed Service Workers Centre Cooperative Society (SWCCS) in 2014 for improved benefits and working conditions and to have a legal entity for domestic workers that is recognized by employers. Domestic workers’ participation in a democratic workplace upholds their rights as workers and as citizens of our society. The work of the ILO on this topic is guided by the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) , which to date has been adopted by 22 countries.

The ILO has committed itself to offering support to strengthen the SWCCS in Trinidad and Tobago. As part of its technical assistance and training support, the ILO has engaged with a Cooperative Development Specialist, Ms. Vanessa Bransburg, who travelled to Trinidad and Tobago to conduct a needs assessment which included short and medium term recommendations toward strengthening the cooperative.

On Monday, May 23, 2016 NUDE and SWCCS hosted a Multi-Stakeholder meeting at the Employers Consultative Association in Port of Spain. The meeting aimed to:

  •  Bring attention to the issues that domestic workers face in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Provide the audience with information about the plight of domestic workers
  • Introduce the participants to the assignment underway toward advancing the cooperatives of domestic workers
  • Assist the consultant in gathering information

Workshop participants included the president of the industrial court, staff from the National Insurance Board of Trinidad and Tobago, a labour inspector, staff from the Cooperative Division, local media, and the president of the Banking, Insurance & General Workers Union, among others.

Ida Le Blanc, Secretary for NUDE, and Althea Coombs Rivas, President of SWCCS took the floor first. They made statements about the day to day realities that domestic workers face in Trinidad and Tobago. Mrs. Le Blanc also shared NUDE’s mission and general organizing strategy. Then, Kelvin Sergeant, an Enterprises Specialist of the ILO’s Decent Work Team in the Caribbean spoke about the rationale behind ILO’s commitment to supporting domestic workers, in particular migrant workers. He also reflected upon the use of cooperative enterprises by informal economy workers, such as domestic workers, as a livelihoods as well as service provision strategy from employment services to finance, housing and beyond. After Mr. Sergeant, a staff member of the Cooperative Division described their programs, and gave a general “state of the field” report about cooperatives in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ms. Bransburg took the floor last talking about domestic worker cooperatives in New York City. She shared the challenges, benefits, and impact that worker ownership of enterprises. The discussion that followed her presentation shed light on the legal and institutional barriers that domestic workers currently experience in Trinidad and Tobago. The workshop participants were asked how they could contribute to strengthening the SWCCS cooperative. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with many participants offering to have follow up meetings and to formalize their engagement with the SWCCS and NUDE.

This article was written by Ms. Vanessa Bransburg