Sheldon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Vice-president of the National Workers Union (NWU), Granville Valentine, says membership in trade unions has not been affected by the paucity of jobs and an increase in unemployment.
Conversely, Valentine claimed enthusiasm remains high among persons seeking representation by trade unions.
He attributed heightened awareness and interest to an amendment made to the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act passed in Parliament in 2010 which provided persons with added options for labour representation.
"Workers today are much more aware than before. Since this law was passed, which said workers can be represented by whether unions, consultants, the Ministry of Labour or tribunal or lawyers, it has opened up a very large door and a huge part of the work world seeking representation is coming from persons who weren't unionised before," Valentine explained.
He also explained that membership continues to increase, as workers who are unionised or those who are not yet unionised, but are a part of bargaining units, continue to be encouraged by their peers.
"You must be seeking to represent the interest of these working class, that is paramount. For example, you find the bauxite workers, they are coming back on board. You find in the workplaces where we have already unionised persons, what we seek to do is to maximise the membership. Because in many of these workplaces what I am seeing is membership is really growing," he said.
"In places like JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company), almost everybody is represented now and it is a result that has been created by the level of representation taking places."
Trade unionist Danny Roberts agreed that membership has increased and will continue to increase, as more and more workers are exposed to certain conditions in the work place.
"The trade unions are as relevant as they were in the 1930s and that relevance stems from employment relations of workers who continue to feel a sense of injustice and discrimination and low pay," said Roberts.
He also noted that as globalisation continues to manifest in places of work, employers continue to implement and introduce things that lead to exploitation. Roberts also reasoned that, "the relevance is not indicative of the numbers of trade unions now".
Valentine said another point of interest is that a great percentage of workers are not recognised but they intend to rectify that.
"It's about 85 to 86 per cent of workers who are not unionised in Jamaica but of that percentage, many of them are really interested in trade unions. But you have to remember that if you are in a bargaining unit and it comprises 100 persons, you need at least 50 plus one but you very may well have 30 per cent and 40 per cent in these groups but lack that fifty plus one," Valentine stated.
Valentine encouraged unionised workers to expose other uninformed workers to the movement and purpose of trade unions.