Mon | Dec 11, 2017

SAJ stalwart Michael Silvera is dead

Published:Tuesday | December 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Michael Silvera

Former member of the Shipping Association of Jamaica's (SAJ) managing committee Michael Silvera has died. Silvera served in the shipping industry for more than three decades. He began as a junior clerk at Port Services Limited in the 1960s and went on to become general manager at Terminal Services Limited up until 1998. He left the industry after the closure of the company in that year. Shortly before he left, however, he participated in one of the most important events in the industry: The David Muirhead-led Board of Enquiry. The enquiry was appointed by then labour minister Portia Simpson Miller to investigate labour relations between the SAJ and the workers employed by them as well as the working conditions at the port. It was the SAJ that called for her intervention as negotiations at the Joint Industrial Council level had been unsuccessful.

Silvera contributed greatly to the landmark industrial agreements that resulted from the enquiry. He worked assiduously to ensure that industrial relations between port workers and employers were ameliorated. His hard work was fuelled by his belief that our ports and port workers were not inferior to any in the region, and as such, it was necessary to improve working conditions, which would increase the productivity of the workers.

This belief was unwavering, even as the industry became plagued by strife. He believed that the agreements coming out of the 1998 Board of Enquiry were instrumental to combating the obstructive practices that were taking place in the industry. These practices included having large gangs working on the port as well as non-working holidays. He believed in and advocated for flexible working hours for the port workers as he viewed it as a necessity if Jamaica wanted to continue to be a key player within the international shipping industry. His contributions to the enquiry and subsequent negotiations cemented his legacy as a pioneer for the development of the industry, specifically, the working conditions at the port.

 

A NEGOTIATOR

 

Silvera began attending meetings at the SAJ from as early as 1966, at first as an observer at the Joint Industrial Council (JIC). The council was formed in 1952 as a response to the labour unrest that had become a frequent occurrence. In 1974, Silvera joined the JIC as a negotiator. He was an active member of the council, serving on the Wharf and Stevedoring Committee, the Disciplinary Committee, and on committees dealing with workers' incentives.

He was influential in the prevention and resolution of many industrial problems during his tenure. Having been managing director at the stevedoring company, he had first-hand knowledge of the challenges managers like him were facing just as much as he was knowledgeable about and understanding of the plight of the port workers. As such, he became a sort of middle man between the two parties, bridging the gap between them and making recommendations for improving relations.

Alvin Henry, a director of Kingston Wharves Limited and former general manager of the SAJ, described Silvera as a man who had unquestionable integrity and a great personality.

''He was always willing to give of his time and experience for the development of the port,'' he said. "What he desired most was for the Port of Kingston to become the best in the region, and his contribution to the industry, and especially the landmark 1998 joint labour agreement, was testament to this.''

Similarly, Phillip Henry, former managing director of Port Services Limited, recalled Silvera as a man who was ''passionate about improving stevedoring and working conditions on the port".

''He was an on-the-ground kind of man. He was pleasant, easy-going, and very considerate. He truly understood the needs of the workers, but as a managing director, he also understood the needs and expectations of the employers, and so he was very influential in creating dialogue between the two,'' he added.

 

MODERNISATION OF THE PORT

 

In addition to improving labour relations, Silvera was instrumental to the modernisation of the port operations that took place. He was actively involved in the port's transition from handling only break bulk to including containerised cargo. He made recommendations for the training of port workers so that they would be equipped to manage the changes in cargo operations.

''He was key to getting the workers to the level they needed to get to during this transition,'' Phillip Henry said. ''It was the liaisons he made with the unions that contributed to this.''

Former operations manager at Terminal Services Limited and personal friend of Silvera Earnest Gooden said that there was no denying Silvera's loyalty to the shipping industry.

''When he was a member of the JIC, he never missed a meeting. He was a good manager and an equally good friend. He showed those he worked with nothing but respect.''

After leaving the shipping industry, Silvera went on to pursue his dream of forming his own business, Millenium Paving Stones, which is now one of the leading paving enterprises in the country.