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Contract work has blessing of ILO, says labour minister

Published:Tuesday | March 5, 2019 | 12:00 AMBryan Miller/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Labour Minister Shahine Robinson has delivered a staunch defence of contract work in Jamaica, even while trade unions such as the one aligned to the ruling party have characterised it as exploitation.

The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) recently called for an end to the practice of employing workers on short-term contracts over long-term tenures, denying them benefits of full-time employment such as staff pensions and other allowances.

However, Robinson, in an interview with The Gleaner, said that contract work was an internationally recognised practice.

“I think what we all would want is a better solution to what currently exists, but I must tell you that the ILO recognises contract work,” said Robinson. “They refer to it as non-standard work, because in the changing world of work, we will see different things happening.”

Undermining Bustamante’s legacy

But the BITU views the increasing trend of contract-based labour – much preferred because employers view it as an easier and cheaper route to the termination of workers – as undermining the legacy of its founder and national hero, Sir Alexander Bustamante.

Speaking at a recent ceremony in Blenheim, Hanover, to commemorate the 135th anniversary of the birth of Sir Alexander, who also founded the the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Collin Virgo, the assistant general secretary of the BITU, said contract work eroded the rights of workers, especially those in the tourism and private security industries.

“This business of contract work has to end, not just in the hotel industry but in the other sectors,” Virgo said. “The hotel industry is a growing industry, not a dying one, so we must regularise the employment of all those persons so that they can properly plan their lives and look after their families.”

However, Robinson insisted that contract work not only suited employers but, in many cases, was ideal for some employees, based on their personal situations.

“With the ILO recognising it (contract work), we can’t say that we won’t recognise it, and it will end,” said Robinson. “It all depends on when we come to the table and talk about it. Speaking in a vacuum, one person talking here and one there will not change anything.”