Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Imani Duncan-Price | The system of (In)decent work and growth

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2016 | 10:00 AM

World Day for Decent Work was October 7. Of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs), goal number 8 calls for the promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all. Why is all this relevant to Jamaica?

The new way the world looks at growth today is very relevant, given Jamaica's level of inequality and the continued push for growth that both major political parties have been focused on. Furthermore, given the sacrifices over the last four years to correct the economic foundation with structural reforms and significant debt reduction to enable growth, it is imperative that Jamaica be clear on the kind of growth it pursues.

The old way to growth is very top-down and large-investments driven, primarily through foreign direct investment (FDI). In the 1960s, Jamaica's GDP growth averaged 4.5%. However, that was accompanied by rising unemployment in the 1960s. The unemployment rate was 13% in 1962 and 23% in 1972. This, along with increased income inequality and attendant widespread discontent, proved too much for the then JLP government. The 1972 PNP government then focused on systemic change in Jamaica, with significant programmes to make the society truly inclusive and address the substantial inequality and persistent class divisions - with revolutionary changes in labour laws, education, women's rights, and youth rights. However, the global ideological warfare and, international oil crisis, along with certain economic policy choices, led to a period of negative growth for Jamaica.

It's time for Jamaica to chart a new path, and in recognition of global realities and continued local systemic issues, go for both - inclusive growth. With decent work. And that is sustainable.

How does Jamaica drive such growth?

The structure of Jamaica's economy and the low-skilled nature of the labour force mean that a continued push for certain FDI will not solve the country's growth problem. After all, Thomas and Serju, in Explaining Jamaica's Growth Puzzle, asserted that the economy registered marginal growth of 1.3% between 1990 and 2005, despite significant investment averaging 28.9% of GDP. They note that the investment did not involve an expansion of the 'productive' capital stock, but was concentrated in building construction (as with tourism), security, and replacement of existing capital (as with upgrading of bauxite plants).

 

Education and security

 

What does this mean for Jamaica's policy choices? The country has to finally come to a sustained bipartisan agreement on real investment in relevant quality education to lift the skill set and productivity of the labour force and real sustained investment in security. Education and security should be priority agreements over one generation - 25 years. This trade-off means citizens being patient with bad roads, water, and health, and politicians being transparent and accountable with funding these priority areas.

Otherwise, Jamaica will be stuck vying for investments centred on low-paying jobs and industries that have little flow through to the rest of the economy. Take, for example, low-wage tourism and call centres. These are critical entry points now, but what of the future for inclusive growth with decent work?

Jamaica has been here before with entry industries. In the 1980s, there was a plethora of FDI with the establishment of 809 Free Zones. What if the then government had continued the investment in education when there was growth, building on that human capital investment from the 1970s? And subsequently, the governments in the 1990s and into the 2000s doing the same? Where would Jamaica be today?

In going for inclusive growth, can policymakers invest in short-term and long-term security programmes so that the tourism industry can invest in a model and experience that drive more spending within the economy - a Jamaica-inclusive model? With all-inclusives comprising 80 per cent of the room stock, and approximately 80 per cent of those being owned by foreigners who repatriate funds to external countries, it is little wonder that all that FDI has not driven GDP growth. Priority investment in security would benefit all Jamaicans as well.

In going for sustainable growth with decent work, can the Jamaican policymakers and the players in the tourism industry agree on the country's carrying capacity so that investment promoters know the maximum number of rooms the island can manage? And for every investment that comes in, negotiate not just for sustainable waste management for the hotel, but also for the communities that have to be established to house the workers that serve the guests of the hotels.

Negotiate, too, for hotel workers to receive social protection such as pensions. They work long hours and are expected to do so with a genuine smile. People wonder why pilfering happens in hotels. Divide the wages by number of hours worked and begin to understand that some feel today that it is akin to modern-day slavery in some establishments.

Jamaica's approach to tourism is not the way to 'decent work' and sustainable inclusive growth.

Inclusive growth and decent work also means ensuring all laws and regulations needed to make the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention 189 (C189) a living reality for all domestic workers are debated, passed, and implemented by September 2017.

Observing Jamaica's ratification of C189 at the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 2016, was an honour. It was especially gratifying to see Shirley Pryce speak on behalf of the Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) after the persistent lobbying and advocacy over the last five years. Actively supporting those lobbying efforts yielded much learning on what it takes to create meaningful change so people can have dignity, safety, and standards in all work situations.

 

Change of mindset

 

But the effort does not stop at that key milestone of ratification. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is almost complete. It is critical that this bill be passed by March 2017. This will enable other critical regulations to be put in place to secure 'Decent Work Standards for Domestic Workers'.

Jamaica also needs a mindset shift among all employers of the more than 100,000 domestic workers (this includes all persons working in the domestic space - helpers, nannies, gardeners, drivers). In the cultural revolution of the 1970s, many employers were upset when their helpers got the right to walk through the front door, that their children would go to school with the children of people in lower classes - all based on merit, not how much money one had in the spirit of building a respectful egalitarian society.

There is now a need for the second cultural revolution where helpers, drivers, gardeners, nannies are seen as equal to the formal family members that they serve - perhaps this time driven by individual awareness and appreciation. A revolution where they, as service providers, look at the skills they bring to their service and give it their utmost best, too, with professionalism.

But be real! There is more action to be taken with those who have the power - the employer. Think what life would be like without such support in the domestic sphere.

With that thought in the forefront, ask yourself, "Am I paying my helper/driver/gardener enough based on the value they provide?" Think about it not in relation to minimum wage required by law or the oversupply of service providers in the market. If the answer is no, if their effort and service are worth more, give them an increase and tell them why. If you can't provide an increase, write a letter or sit down and share with them how much you appreciate their contribution to the household, and whenever possible, translate that appreciation into something tangible. In the meantime, advocacy has to grow strong and united for a living wage in Jamaica!

- Imani Duncan-Price is co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and former senator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and fullticipation@gmail.com.