For several decades, the Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF), has been representing the interest of employers on workplace and labour market issues, locally, regionally and internationally. The JEF remains steadfast and resolute in its quest to actively advance the interest of employers in their relations with employees and other stakeholders through the provision of a range of professional services geared towards the development of human resources and the fostering of industrial harmony.
The Federation was involved in the development and/or amendment of all the major Jamaican labour laws. The voice of the employer is echoed in the laws, through the JEF's presence on the tripartite Labour Advisory Committee, which considers laws and regulations relating to the labour market. Over the past four years the Federation has been actively lobbying for amendments to the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes (LRIDA) & Trade Union Acts and for the introduction of Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA).
The amendment to the LRIDA was started in an effort to create an environment conducive to industrial harmony and also to bring labour laws in line with that of our key trading partners. The introduction of FWA seeks to increase flexibility, which will lead to increased productivity. With regard to the LRIDA, the JEF was successful in getting the Government to remove the proposed clause, giving workers a right to take industrial action. The JEF and the JCTU also agreed upon a new definition of the worker, which will be included in the amendments slated for parliament in early 2002.
At present, the law (LRIDA) is still lacking, as the Industrial Disputes Tribunal does not have the clear-cut right to order compensation instead of reinstatement for a dismissed worker. The IDT should have this power so that it might be exercised when reinstatement will lead to a breakdown in industrial harmony at the workplace. In 1996 the JEF called on the Government to introduce flexibility in the labour market by introducing FWA. The introduction of FWA would allow both employers and employees a greater degree of latitude to determine schedules, so that both parties could maximise the use of their time. FWA will lead to an increase in the quality of work life by the inclusion of the worker in working time determination, thus allowing the employee to decide his best mix of work/leisure time.
For the employer, FWA gives him the flexibility to vary production/output to meet demand/supply in an effort to create a competitive enterprise. In August 2001, the Government signalled its intention to increase the minimum wage by 2002. The Prime Minister called on the Minister of Labour to assemble the Minimum Wage Advisory Commission (MWAC) to look at the current minimum wage with a view to recommending a new rate.
The MWAC is a tripartite body with a representative from Government, employer and worker union. The Government representative, nominated by the Minister is the chairman, while the JEF and JCTU nominate the employers and workers representatives, respectively. The JEF made a detailed submission to the MWAC, setting out a formula for the orderly increase in the minimum wage over four years, based on a formula tied to GDP and the poverty line. The submission also included programmes/policies that can be implemented to alleviate poverty. We felt these policies were necessary because a huge increase in the minimum wage would only serve to increase poverty (by creating job loss) rather than assisting persons below the poverty line.
As we step further into the 21st century, employers face several challenging issues that if not addressed urgently and strategically they will destroy not only enterprises but also the country. These issues include - HIV/AIDS and Occupational Safety & Health/Environmental Management. The JEF, in fulfilling its mandate to equip employers with accurate well-researched credible information as embarked upon a education and training programme to assist employers in addressing these issues.
Through our monthly (Trendwatch), quarterly JEF News and yearly The Employer the Federation seeks to increase the awareness of employers on these topics and also highlight best practices in managing them. The JEF recently launched its Handbook for Employers which sets out detailed procedures for dealing with HIV/AIDS at the workplace. The handbook also contains steps to be taken in developing an HIV/AIDS policy and strategies for its successful implementation. With the growing concern for a safe environment the JEF has included a section in the handbook that seeks to encourage employers to create and implement Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Policies, which will reduce accidents and increase productivity in their organisations.
The Federation also provides training in OSH and Environmental Management in collaboration with other partners such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Environment Action Programme (ENACT). In this globalised economy a strategic plan is necessary for creating the solid foundation needed for sustained growth and development. We at the JEF believe that this strategic plan must be based on credible information garnered through thorough research on the issues that will impact on the competitiveness of organisations.
In this regard the JEF has repositioned itself to increase our focus on research and information generation which can then be used by enterprises for strategic planning and informed decision making. The Jamaica Employers Federation's main strength lies in its penchant for producing accurate, credible and well-researched information on the labour market.
The Research and Information department of the JEF provides a number of client-driven services including credible data on trends in compensation, organisational behaviour, industrial relations and other workplace issues. Our research and information arm not only generates data for use by the Federation but will assist organisations and individuals in conducting their own surveys and other research.
The JEF, which was established in 1953, has remained relevant today thanks to the hard work of our former leaders, who assisted in shaping the organisation and moulding it into one of the leading employers organisation in the Caribbean. The first President was Douglas Judah, a noted lawyer and he was followed by Hubert Arnold, managing director of Hardware and Lumber, Leslie Ashenheim, legal luminary, Paul Bovell, Deryck Stone, attorney; Sidney Chambers, Emil George, Attorney, Dr. George Phillip, Edward Ashenheim, attorney, Sam Tyson and Carl Roberts. The executive directors have been Deryck Stone, Sidney Chambers, Major Eric Grell, George Kirkaldy, Hazel Gibbon and Neville Royes.