Mon | Jun 1, 2020

Oppressing workers could spark 1930s-type revolt – Roberts

Published:Wednesday | May 22, 2019 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Danny Roberts, head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, has warned against certain practices such as contract employment, noting that legislation should be crafted to address this issue, taking into account International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards for the rights of the worker.

He said that employers must be mindful of history, cautioning that placing their employees on contracts that strip them of their dignity and denying them the right to basic benefits was precipitous.

Roberts noted that once workers are oppressed, it could give rise to revolts, recalling that in the 1930s when Jamaican workers felt oppressed and had been denied their rights, interests, respect and dignity, they reacted.

“In the 21st century, if we begin to see the erosion of workers’ rights and the loss of dignity and respect, even if trade union organisations are not around in its present construct as in certain period of our history, what you will be certain to have, as in any country anywhere in the world, is the natural human reaction to the oppression that beset them,” said Roberts.

He told The Gleaner at the end of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Aggie Bernard Workers’ Monument at the Kingston Craft Market in recognition of Workers’ Week 2019 that Jamaica stands to lose if employers continue to deny workers pension benefits (based on a contract), do away with redundancy payment, and to terminate employment of female workers after they become pregnant by virtue of the end of the fixed-term contracts.

Workers’ Week runs from May 19 to 23 and is being observed under the theme: ‘Yes to Decent Work, No to Child Labour’. Thursday, May 23 will be celebrated as Labour Day.

government urged to examine laws

Roberts said that the Government should put in place protective legislation similar to laws enacted in parts of Europe and Latin America, to combat the obvious control over labour, reminiscent of the master-servant relationship of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The trade union stalwart said that he would urge the Government to examine the industrial labour laws to be guided by the ILO conventions and customs to see what was needed in order to ensure the laws provide protection for workers, while not placing undue burden on employers.

Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson declined to comment on the concern around contract work.

But in her address at yesterday’s Workers’ Week ceremony, she said that the Government had moved away from the realms of mere industrial relations to adopt a broader and more “integrative approach in treating with labour-related issues”.

“We continue to boast of the enviable record of social dialogue which has enabled government, employers and workers to manage change and achieve socio-economic goals,” said Robinson.