Wed | Dec 13, 2017

O'Neil Grant | Jamaica, the place for precarious work

Published:Sunday | August 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica: the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. This is the vision we have for our country by 2030, thirteen years from now. This is a noble vision and one to strive for. It means the creation of laws, policies and the engendering of practices that will allow us to achieve this vision.

As a trade unionist, civil servant and financial analyst, my perspective is that the vision has to do with the people at the centre and doing everything to cause the people to prosper and be contented. This is very wide, so I will like to narrow my view and look at Jamaica: the place of choice to work.

Work, simply put, is any mental and/or physical effort done to achieve a particular result. Most work is done with the promise of compensation based on many factors, including the ability to pay or earn based on the demand for work and the supply of people to do the work.

Demand and supply vary by the type of work to be done and the level of physical or mental effort needed to achieve the planned result with work of a physical, routine effort attracting less pay when compared to work that requires more mental, non-routine effort.

With the supply of labour outstripping the demand for that labour, we have unemployment or oversupply of labour. This drives the price of labour down and puts the users of labour (the employer) in a powerful position to determine the conditions under which they will engage the supplier of labour (the worker). The supplier of labour will either choose to work for lower compensation, remain unemployed, or migrate to find work that matches their knowledge, skills, and attributes (KSA), hence the migration of workers with high KSA to other countries/territories whose rate of compensation for the KSA is higher.

 

Rate deficit

 

Notwithstanding this drain, there is still a deficit in the rate of deployment of trained and skilled workers, and so the employer is still in a dominant position. With the demand for work at such a high level relative to the price of labour, workers or the suppliers of labour are trading their labour under less-than-optimal conditions. These conditions are: unstable employment, lower wages, and more dangerous working conditions.

Such workers rarely receive social benefits and are often denied the right to join a union. They know they are easily replaceable and are reminded of this constantly. Women, young people, the disabled and low-skilled migrant workers (rural/urban) are much more likely to fill these kinds of sub-optimal jobs. This is called precarious work. Permanent employment across a number of sectors has shifted to precarious jobs through outsourcing, use

of employment agencies, and inappropriate classification of workers as short-term or independent contractors.

We have seen a growing tendency to use contract employment to engage workers.

The terms of these contracts are oftentimes unfair, to the extent that they are classified as precarious employment. The public sector is now a major practitioner of precarious employment, with its increased use of contracts to engage workers.

This lends itself to unfair treatment of workers. Take the case of three of our members from the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency. They performed well based on their evaluation and met their targets, but their contracts were not renewed. No reason was given, save that there is a clause in the contract that allows it. These are career civil servants who have had their tenures curtailed by an unfair and unjust precarious work practice that uses contracts a weapon of intimidation rather than a tool for productivity.

To make Jamaica the place of choice to work, the country's laws, policies and practices must support stable employment, higher wages, and good working conditions, the provision of social benefits, and securing the right to join a union, equal access to women, young people, the disabled and low-skilled migrant workers (rural/urban) to fill these kinds of jobs.

As a country, we must work to eliminate precarious jobs through restricting outsourcing, banning the use of employment agencies, and appropriately classifying workers as perma-nent employees.

- O'Neil W. Grant is president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association and vice-president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.