Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Current labour climate hostile to union growth - Patterson

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has expressed the view that certain labour practices now being employed in the country are threatening the trade union movement, and he has warned that unions risk betraying their purpose if they allow the return of the exploitation of labour.

The survival of the trade union movement, Patterson said, depends on job growth to sustain its members. He cautioned that the movement faced a challenge in attracting new members based on the change of employment relationships, asserting that fixed-term contracts and contract labour have replaced open-ended contractual arrangements.

Patterson was speaking at the inaugural Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute distinguished lecture held a the Regional Headquarters of the University of the West Indies in St Andrew on Tuesday. He highlighted as threats to the union movement, "the effects of globalisation and external conditionalities; the splurge of trade union shutouts in most of our hotels and free zones; the colourable device of 'contract workers' who are really employees; and the effects of questionable work permit grants in the hospitality trade and entertainment industry".

The former prime minister said that current union members, faced with the prospect of wage stagnation, were even questioning the role of trade unions in light of their diminished roles.

Pointing to evidence that showed that union decline was one of the key contributors to wage stagnation and income inequality across the world, Patterson cautioned that the quality of life of workers could be affected if trade unions were weak.

"The success of any effort to influence policy and create an environment suitable for economic growth and development requires social dialogue. And the success of any social dialogue arrangement requires strong trade unions and employees' associations with the technical capacity and access to relevant information," Patterson reasoned.

That is why he urged vigilance and the development of a stronger framework from trade unions to operate.

At the same time, the former prime minister, referencing the oversight mechanism, the Economic Programme Oversight Committee, called for unions to be adequately and fully represented in any of its derivatives that may be enshrined in law.

Argued Patterson: "If Jamaican labour is to guarantee its existence in the centrality of human rights, then trade unionism remains the indispensable catalyst. The struggle for the rights of labour continues, but the response to that struggle cannot be the same.

"The labour uprising of 1938 sought to achieve justice for the worker and a better way of life for our men, women, and children. It is the business of the trade union movement. In fact, it is the raison d'Ítre - to remain the guardian of that cherished ideal," Patterson continued.