Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Fenton for Labour - The bar was not set too high

Published:Sunday | November 15, 2015 | 11:00 AMOrville Taylor, Contributor
Ferguson

So my friend Fenton Ferguson did nothing wrong in regard to his stewardship of the health ministry. True, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that he must make sure that 'it' doesn't happen again, but his supporters and those who are more orange than carrots, said he was blameless.

Moreover, we know that opposition spokesman on finance, Audley Shaw misrepresented the information in the audit of the health sector, which he was reading from memory; because there is no evidence that Fergie knew about the deaths of the premature babies, in August.

But then again, there is a difference between when a report is reliable, re-libel and re-lie-able.

I have yet to see a coherent report and analysis, which demonstrates that Fenton was found derelict, via due process. Yet, he correctly says he was demonised.

Nonetheless, whatever the justification, the die has been cast and Fergie has been booted from the portfolio faster than a motorcyclist can dally between cars. The reappointment of Horace Dalley as his replacement is neither here nor there.

Perhaps we need to look at the health data during his previous tenure, before thinking that he will do a better or worse job.

 

Portia's ministry

My greater concern is Ferguson's reassignment to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. This is the ministry that Portia got her training wheels on, and where, with strong support from expert technocrats, she bloomed and looked almost prime ministerial. Yet, on the demise of larger-than-life super comrade, minister of agriculture and fisheries, Roger Clarke, she reduced the ministry to an entity so unimportant that it only deserved a half minister.

For me, the demotion of the ministry to be only worthy of a part-time minister was a major slap in the face of its diligent and hardworking staff. Beyond that, it demeaned the legacy of her loyalist Clarke, by suggesting that all that he was doing in agriculture and fisheries was so minuscule that a part-time minister could more than do the job.

For all the apologies and explanations regarding Ferguson, the perception of the public is that he is a minister who has been weighed in the scales and found wanting. Sacking him is a powerful statement by the comrade leader, and he is damaged goods, whether or not he deserves the label. The question therefore is, what is she telling the Jamaican working class regarding the priority she has given their interests? Is she saying that the work of the labour portfolio is a lesser imperative; therefore she can send the wounded warrior to be the night watchman?

I have no issue with Ferguson, and I don't think he will do worse than Derrick Kellier, Horace Dalley, Danny Buchanan and my tongue will not be pulled. There is a lot of work to be done in the labour ministry, and the workers, who Michael Manley brought to the People's National Party (PNP) in 1972, deserve better than they have got in the past three decades.

 

weak 'backative'

Despite the narrative, the post 1990s PNP has only given big speech with weak 'backative' regarding Jamaica's working class. Michael Manley is dead. Forty years ago, we saw a PNP that truly put people first and passed a slew of labour laws, which have held up until today. But they are inadequate and some are simply outdated.

No PNP government has filled the holes in the redundancy and termination laws, since Manley first passed them. For example, if today, a worker develops an occupational illness, which was not known or listed in the schedule of workplace diseases, under the Employment Termination and Redundancy Payment Act, in 1974, he has nothing to get, even though his workplace unquestionably made him ill.

And if an employer wants to be difficult and doesn't wish to pay redundancy payment, there is nothing to make him do so. And successive ministers of labour and trade unionists/parliamentarians aligned to the government, and opposition know this.

In a country with more than 50 per cent of the population being women and around 40 per cent heading households, we have a 1979 Maternity Leave Act based on the old 1952 Convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Yet, in the heyday of the country having its first female labour minister, the ILO's Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 is still gestating without any amendment to our act.

One would not even believe that despite the tacit promises to the gay community, where one in three gay men is HIV positive, that there would be a repeal of the buggery law, the legislation to protect workers from discrimination based on HIV status, has languished for more than a decade. Indeed the legislation that traverses both health and labour ministries was based on an ILO policy from 2001.

Would you believe that Caribbean Airlines, Digicel and Flow are essential services, under the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act, but the police are excluded?

Did you know that although mooted, no sexual harassment legislation exists? And although female workers are nominally protected via the equal pay statute, nothing prevents work of higher value from being paid more cheaply?

How many of the behavioural scientists in the Ministry of Health understand that there is a direct relationship between chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension and workplace stress. And that where there is more 'decent work' there is a healthier workforce. Studies, including mine in my recent book, demonstrate that productivity levels increase with improved worker protection and that crime, which is a major drain on health resources, is directly correlated to low labour standards, including the scourge of contract work, which the ministry has failed to put forward appropriate legislation to fix the debacle amendment of 2002.

Redemption beckons for Fergie. He indirectly has improved workplace health by plotting landmark smoke-free public spaces. This time, he doesn't have to be questioned as a technocrat because in labour issues, "he is only a dentist" but let him bite into the new job and leave good teeth marks.

- Dr Orville Taylor is a sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com