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My fellow Jamaicans, Labour Day 2020 comes during one of the most severe challenges with unprecedented social problems brought on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Social distancing and other restrictions have forced us to adapt to a “new normal” and “Labour at Home” instead of at our usual community building projects. With every challenge, comes an opportunity. However, remember when you build your home, you also build your community, your country.

So let us pull the family together to improve our surroundings. Get the children and grandchildren to “clean up, plant up, and fix up”.  Don’t plant only flowers, plant some food and vegetables. Michael Manley challenged us to “grow what you eat and eat what you grow”. Today I challenge every Jamaican to plant something, callaloo, cabbage, sweet potato or yam. Utilize the land around your homes and if you don’t have land, find a flowerpot or an old drum.

This pandemic has brought many dangers and challenges. We have faced challenges before, and we have overcome them. It is that same spirit of resilience, and the passion of our National Heroes that the Jamaican people are proving every day that COVID 19 will not defeat us.

Our remarkable workers:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • First responders
  • Sanitation Workers
  • Public transportations drivers and conductors, together with
  • Members of the security forces

… have taken centre stage in the national effort to protect the health of their fellow Jamaicans. On behalf of every Jamaican I thank them and honour their sacrifice.

Every day they risk their lives on the front line. Yet, with inadequate support, too many of our workers on the frontline return home to find their families out of food and unable to get life-saving medication. Some have returned to communities locked down without adequate notice for citizens to prepare and stock up on food and medicine. Unfortunately, well-intended health measures have sometimes brought more misery than relief.  Our ill-equipped and under-manned security forces, in addition to crime fighting, now have the added responsibility of maintaining public order under very difficult circumstances.

Despite the enormous challenges, our workers have never wavered in their commitment to serve. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and at the very least we must put them and their families at the front of the line for any additional support from the Government.

My fellow Jamaicans, the Covid19 pandemic highlights the difficulties of too many Jamaican workers. Many are disadvantaged by the unfair practice to categorize full-time workers, in private and government enterprises, as contract workers.

Employees who work in the same company every day, sometimes for years on end are being called contract workers. Thousands of workers are denied benefits that have been won over many decades by the Trade Union movement. They don’t get vacation leave; they don’t get sick leave; Can you imagine… you work every day and if you sick, you have to go home without pay or work while sick! That’s not fair! Our country can do better! These workers have neither collective bargaining rights nor protection against wrongful dismissals. They will have no pension when they retire, and so could very well spend their last years in poverty. That is not fair! Our country can do better!

That is the plight faced by contract workers in the tourism sector. Two months ago, many were sent home with one week’s pay. They don’t know when they will have another pay day. The contract workers in the BPO sector have the same experience of being sent home without the security of a regular income.

How will they provide for themselves and their families?

The government has a responsibility to protect workers’ rights. We must not celebrate another Labour Day without righting these wrongs! We must pass laws to ensure that all workers who work “full-time” will get the benefits legally due to them. We must not short change or exploit our workers, We can achieve inclusive growth with a dynamic private sector playing the leading role and protecting workers’ rights.

This COVID-19 crisis has revealed the inadequacies of our present economic and social situation.  Significant and widespread inequalities have left the vast majority of our people languishing even more on the edge of destitution and hunger.

As we plan for the re-opening of our economy, we must use the lessons of this this crisis to take decisive and determined action to design a New Economy, a New Society and a New Jamaica which offers more opportunity and a higher standard of living for all.

This requires a re-think of how we train and organize our work force, and leverage the best technology, to achieve increased productivity and real growth that will positively impact the majority, and not just a few.

As we build this new economy, business owners will have to be far more proactive in taking steps to protect the health and welfare of their workers.

As we build this new economy, we must modernize our food production to create food security for our people and provide variety for our visitors. We must put the systems in place to build a profitable and growing agro-industry that can withstand shocks created by Climate and economic downturn. Only the fullest mobilization of farmers, agricultural workers and the best marketing, technology and management expertise from the private and public sector will help us achieve this goal.  Inclusion, consultation and participation at all levels must be the way forward in building a New and Better Jamaica.

As you tackle projects with your family from home consistent with this year’s theme for Labour Day, remember that a strong home, leads to strong communities and a strong nation.

As we face the difficult challenges ahead, let us recall the valiant struggles of the past, especially the struggles of the workers in 1938, when life must have seemed to that generation to be even more daunting than it is today. Yet they triumphed and laid the foundation for today’s Jamaica. Let us draw inspiration from them, confident that no matter how tough the circumstance the Jamaican people will always find a way to triumph and soar.

Have a happy, safe and productive Labour Day.

May God bless you all and Jamaica land we love.

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