The rights of the Jamaican workforce are being eroded because of rising fear of retribution and termination, particularly among employees with marginal contracts.
In an interview with The Gleaner yesterday, St Patrick Ennis, general secretary of the Union of Technical Administrative and Supervisory Personnel, hit back at Labour Minister Shahine Robinson’s characterisation of an industrial, relations climate that is “most peaceful”.
“No, it’s far from it. I would not share that [view],” said Ennis in reaction to Robinson’s assertion last week.
“You can’t do that based on the fact that there are less industrial action and industrial disputes. It can also be because of the increased tenuousness of persons’ employment status where persons are now, because of the increased contract work and the tenuous status of workers, they are hesitant to come forward with industrial disputes or matters that they feel aggrieved about.”
Citing the rise in contract labour and occupational hazards in the wokplace, Ennis said that the litmus test of optimal labour relations should not be the number of strikes “like it was in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s”.
“There is a lot of problems on the ground in terms of the Jamaica Occupational Safety Health Act thing, that you see even workers working in hazardous conditions, like at the Cornwall Regional Hospital and so on … . Jobs are not easy to find, and persons are worried about their continuous employment,” said Ennis.
He decried the treatment meted out to workers in the security and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries, where employment rights are under threat.
“Look at what is happening in the BPO, security guard and the hotel sectors. Persons are contract workers [for] two years, six month. What are you going to do if, and when, you raise an issue, all a person can say is, ‘Well, I will not renew your contract’?” Ennis asked. “It’s not a matter that they even have to have a hearing; they just wait until your three-month contract expires and don’t renew it.”
Last week, Robinson said the absence of industrial relations hostility will be a big drawing card for investors.
“I am pleased to announce that the industrial relations environment in Jamaica is the most peaceful it has been in decades,” said Robinson, who was speaking at the recent ground-breaking ceremony for the new Ocean Coral Spring H10 Hotel in Trelawny.
“With a Government committed to the growth and development of our workers, the protection of the rights of both employers and employees and an economy that is poised for growth, I can say without any fear of contradiction that your investment in Jamaica is on fertile ground,” Robinson said at last week’s ground breaking ceremony for the Ocean Coral Spring H10 Hotel in Trelawny.
The government minister also noted that new investments, such as the US$250m Ocean Coral Spring hotel development, will help the Government to stamp out informality in the country’s labour force.
“The informal economy accounts for a significant percentage of the labour force. Government is intent on breaking that cycle of informality where more and more Jamaican workers will be trained and transitioned into the formal economy,” Robinson told project developers and others in the audience. “Investments such as these are rather encouraging, as the workers who are trained will find employment in keeping with the ‘decent work agenda.”
According to Robinson, the approach will allow workers to better access social benefits such as housing solutions and to contribute to the National Insurance Scheme, a retirement and welfare fund.
“I beseech all employers to take every step to utilise the local workforce as our Jamaican workers are known internally to be industrious and committed,” she said.
Courtesy of The Gleaner