Tue | Jul 23, 2019

Orville Taylor | Contract work and the man of cloth’s wrath

Published:Sunday | April 28, 2019 | 12:10 AM

And the bishop came down from the pulpit and did what Jesus would’ve done. Anglican Lord Bishop Rt Rev Howard Gregory, in a moving sermon on the Mount of Synod, stayed right on script and scripture, taking on the phenomenon of contract work.

He preached, “Lazarus still sits by the side of the road outside the gate, and he hears and he sees the prosperity of Jamaica’s Dives passing by daily, self-absorbed and expounding the language of prosperity, rehearsing the statistics, but unaware of his presence.”

There are some inconvenient truths in the playbook from which Gregory and others who understand Jesus and try to live by his teachings operate. The reference to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31, carries a simple but uncomfortable message for many of the upstanding ‘Christian’, some of whom are business people in this society.

Given the teachings of Jesus himself, and the eyewitness accounts from Matthew, it always bothered me how people who were ridiculously rich reconciled their wealth with the passage in Matthew 19:24. Jesus himself, not Paul or anyone else, said, “I’ll say it again – it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Even for ‘worldians’, the entering into a needle eye is a daunting task. Many pastors preach some non-biblical version of Christianity, where they emphasise the accumulation of capital on this Earth.

Some of these persons, whose congregants have paid their mortgages, bought their high end cars and financed their businesses, probably guarantee that their sheep actually keep on course for heaven, where they most likely won’t meet him. Nevertheless, unless the gospel is a liar, for all his panache, the rich pastor won’t make it through the needle eye.

But as I said last week, people will read what they want from scripture, but I love the second commandment of Jesus, which is preached in Matthew 22:39: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. With such a guideline in labour-management relations, an employer cannot go wrong. Moreover, it leads to a motivated workforce and higher levels of productivity and production.

We are once again in the middle of a developmental paradox. On the one hand, we are seeing evidence of improvement in the economic indicators. Call it proof of the promised prosperity if you wish, but there is little to deny that, small be it, there is economic growth. Similarly, using the same set of research parameters as used over the past few decades, unemployment is down to a historic low.

EQUAL RIGHTS AND JUSTICE

Given all these signs of progress, the popular literature in criminology is that there should be a parallel reduction in social violence. Yet, homicides and domestic acts of violence are as resilient as the pigment on the knuckles and knees of my ‘bleachers’ neighbours.

First of all, prosperity means nothing unless the economic growth is being reasonably distributed, so that the average hard- working employee can benefit. Peter Tosh and Haile Selassie were right, without justice and equal rights (at the workplace), there will be no peace in the society.

One painful observation and prediction made at the end of the 1990s was that inasmuch as unemployment was decreasing, underemployment was increasing. More people were working fewer than 17 hours per week and, ironically, an increasing percentage was working beyond 49 hours per week.

These sets of workers were very fragile and without the ability to sustain a family of four, the typical 16-18-year-old male gets squeezed out. Any fool could see that the pattern was a prescription for disaster. But the arrogant who is benefiting from the short term wrong is always too blind to see the outcome down the road.

During the period of the 2000s, across two PNP and two JLP administrations each, the same labour environment saw increases in the complaints by non-unionised workers to the Ministry of Labour.

None of the trade unions to which I appealed in the early 2000s sought to heed the danger of contract work. In fact, they seemed to deafen their eyes and their blind ears. Many of the senior unionists now who cry the proverbial “Lord, Lord”, bawling and crying ‘fowl’, ignored the egg when it was being laid. Not only did they drop the ball on contract work, but, if you ask me, they dropped at least one more.

NO JOB SECURITY

Gregory is on point because in some industries, many workers work “without job security, and … do not enjoy the benefit of vacation, health insurance, worker benefits for which labour unions fought as part of the development of modern Jamaica and an expression of social justice”. Noting that even government is guilty, “… becoming a trend-setter in these practices, as well, in dealing with the employment of persons who are already living in or on the borders of poverty”.

In human resources management, there are generally two types of contracts under which production is carried out. Most common is the contract of service, also called the contract of employment. Here, the individual is generally controlled by the proprietor, as regards time of work and place of work. On the other hand, there are true contractors, who invest in their tools, work outside of the normal structure of day-to-day production and stand to lose or gain because they are sort of entrepreneurs. A labour-only contractor is a worker.

Don’t get me wrong, there is indeed a space for contract work. In some industries, where supply and demand fluctuate significantly seasonally, it is impractical to expect the employers to have a large cadre of workers who will be idle for half of the year. Beyond that, some categories of workers are bona fide contractors.

However, where workers are being hidden under disguised contracts, it is only a matter of time before the volcano blows again, as it did in 1865, 1938 and 1965.

 

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com