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Stabroek News

On becoming number one
published: Sunday | January 8, 2006


Orville W. Taylor, Contributor

WE ARE number one! It is now official. Jamaica is the murder capital of the world. Mark you, this is not the sort of honour I would die to achieve but fact is fact.

When I started to write this column, the murder total was 13, so we are right on target to maintain the shameful 2005 record when almost 1,700 persons were killed. Like all conscientious Jamaicans, including my undertaker cousin who is buried with jobs and still has a lot of 'work on ice', my wish this year is an end to this senseless bloodletting.

Yet, we have started on a bad note with a continuation of the homicide pattern of the last few years while relations between the police and the citizenry show little sign of improvement.

On Thursday, in St. Elizabeth, there was another in the series of questionable police shootings. As usual, the police's version of the incident is substantially different from that of the 'eye witnesses'.

Again, the greatest victim is the truth. There is something amiss because someone attacked and wounded a TVJ cameraman, unless the explanation is that he fell on someone's machete.

Whatever the investigations may reveal, expatriate Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields has promised a new murder reduction plan by this month's end.

I hope that it is really a new strategy because plans to reduce murder rates have been around since creation when Eve was raising Cain and still was not Able to save his brother's life. The truth is these plans have existed since 'Adams,' and the 'Trinity'.

A pastor has come up with a 'bishop' of a prophecy that "we will not have another historic year where murder is concerned." He stakes his future as a man of the cloth on this prediction and I hope so for the nation's sake, although I do not care much for his cloth.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

Nonetheless, despite the high homicide rate, Jamaica is one of the best places to live in the developing world. I dare anyone to provide data for me regarding any other region, including the economically-successful Southeast Asia to reject this.

As often reiterated, we have fundamental rights of, freedom of association, expression, worship, conscience and movement. Add also, freedom from discrimination based on race, though not on sex.

It is also a great source of pride for me that we are, per capita, the number-one sprinting nation in track and field history, a leading netballing country, and producers of some of the world's best academics, workers and leaders (when exported).

Indeed, I cherish my right of freedom of expression because I can say whatever I want as long as it is not untrue or illegal. Yet, ironically, many use this right of free speech to make comments of questionable merit even while simultaneously providing sound advice.

On Thursday, I listened with rapt attention to banker extraordinaire, Aubyn Hill, as he extolled the value of workers to organisations. Like him and HEART's executive director, Robert Gregory, I share the view that in a service-oriented world, the knowledge worker must be the centrepiece.

With globalisation and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy - which I call "Carry i' come see me" - we need 'export quality' 'world-class' workers

For me, Jamaican workers at all levels, including university professors and media personalities, must rise to the challenge and brand ourselves like exclusive high-quality entities like Blue Mountain coffee.

That is, not mass-produced, but niche marketed as élite products.

Nevertheless, inasmuch as I agree with him, he has a 'Hill-conceived' notion about payment of redundancy. A flat opponent of any idea that workers earn and deserve anything more than their pay for years of service, he has consistently opposed these 'goodbye' payments.

Interestingly, trade unionist Lambert Brown, in an article on this page some weeks ago, mentioned Hill's own separation package from National Commercial Bank, which, from his own position, should really not have been earned, since his pay should have been enough.

WORKERS' RIGHTS

Hill and others argue that the concept of redundancy was imported from Britain, is economically unjustified and does not fit our reality. Well, we are not an indigenous population, being imported by the migrant Europeans on the first set of 'cruise ships' from Africa and later Asia.

In any event, the doctrine of workers rights and workers protection being 'in restraint of trade' (impediments to profits) was developed in Britain between the late 1700s and the late 1800s. The economic model where low labour standards and worker protection were seen as the paradigm is also British.

It is to be noted that the French manufacturer, Daniel Le Grand, saw low worker protection as unfair competition as far back as 1850 and sought to contradict the purely economic arguments advanced by the 'god' of economics Adam Smith, who opposed government intervening in economic relations.

In defending redundancy payments, I, like the British courts, believe that workers who work for faithful years, receiving less than they contribute to the employer - that is how a profit is made - have built up equity in the firm. It is not enough to say that salary - for non-executives - is enough compensation.

In any event, there is empirical evidence that access to worker protection, including redundancy payments, leads to enhanced productivity. It also correlates strongly with economic growth.

In a country like this, wracked by crime, we must recognise that most potential murderers are parts of families who work under the redundancy legislation.

My own emerging research suggests that there has been a correlation between the increased breaches of the termination laws and the rise in crime. Let's become number one for the right reasons this year.

Dr. Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

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