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As is customary, on this annual Labour Day holiday we pause to pay special tribute to the workers of Jamaica and to recognise and thank them for their continuing contribution to our nation’s growth, prosperity, and the well-being of all our people.
Once again we acknowledge the value of the high level of cooperation and collaboration that, over the past year, has characterized our industrial relations climate. This has contributed significantly to economic growth and a spur of new investment, despite the national disasters of the past year and the severe drought we suffered a few months ago.
For most Jamaicans, Labour Day is not just another holiday, but one on which communities undertake special group projects underlining the fact that it is together we build this country of ours. I am confident that at the end of the day we will all benefit from the practical results of the voluntary labour in which so many of our citizens will participate.
Equally important is the revival of our strong community spirit. Everyone who participates will no doubt enjoy the special satisfaction that comes from working together in partnership with neighbours and friends for the common good.
Over the years, our focus for Labour Day activities has changed to reflect the needs of the country at the particular time.
This year we decided to focus on disaster preparedness under the theme, Prepare for Disaster: Recover Faster – a reflection of the lessons we learnt last year when Hurricane Ivan ravaged our island. Because of our experience with Hurricane Gilbert, when Ivan struck we were far more aware of how to prepare for such natural hazards. But we need to do much more.
The damage from Ivan could have been much worse if we had not made timely and significant preparations in advance. The implementation of our National Disaster Plan contributed to our good recovery rate and significantly minimised the impact of the hurricane.
While we still have some reconstruction to do, we can feel a sense of satisfaction that we did a fine job in managing the disaster and its aftermath.
With the hurricane season just ahead, I have instructed our respective government Ministries and agencies to focus on how we can more effectively address the matter of orderly planning for disasters in collaboration with our communities.
We have no control over natural disasters, but with the government agencies taking the lead and the cooperation of all Jamaicans, we can institute systems and instil behavioural patterns that prevent manmade disasters and mitigate considerably, the effects of natural disasters.
Last year, we saw the benefit of the extensive flood mitigation projects we undertook prior to the start of the Hurricane season. The National Works Agency (NWA) undertook drain mitigation work on sixteen major drains and gullies and over fifty minor drains islandwide. Our Parish Councils are required to undertake drain-cleaning programmes for those gullies and drains that fall under their jurisdiction.
At the meeting of National Disaster Committee last week, I directed that we should embark on a drain-cleaning programme at once. I further instructed that the work on the National Disaster Mitigation Management Plan should be accelerated.
This will include:
examining plans for development in the flood prone areasmaking recommendations for future development and land useand recommending the design criteria for a national flood control system based on the proposed land use.
This will be carried out in consultation with the Office Of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Office of the Prime Minister in order to collate and review the existing plans and policies for disaster management.
The Plan will take into account the concerns of all major stakeholders such as agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing. Members of the public should be made aware of the Plan and their role in its successful implementation.
Let me once again remind everyone that one of the major causes of flood damage is the blocking of drains and gullies with garbage. This practice is both unhealthy and dangerous. The other practice which we must stop is building houses on the edges of gullies, in river beds and in flood prone areas and on hillsides where land slippages frequently occur.
While the government will continue its public education programme, I am also relying on community leaders and all responsible citizens, to play their part in discouraging these practices, first by setting an example and by helping to educate and remind those who need persuasion to stop these bad habits which endanger all of us.
In addition to educating the public about the direct effects of both manmade and natural disasters, the campaign will also treat with several other related issues, including the observance of proper building codes.
In keeping with the theme for Labour Day 2005, we will be carrying out a number of activities related to disaster preparedness. These include: tree planting in specific areas, as we seek to replace the many trees lost during the hurricane; drain cleaning; the trimming of trees; ensuring proper emergency exits for schools and other public buildings; working on public health facilities and fire stations; and renovating and upgrading shelters.
My fellow Jamaicans, on this National Labour Day let us not forget the vital importance of the workers of Jamaica. We have already begun to see the positive rewards of the economic framework for sustainable development on which my Administration has focused. It is a model that recognizes that the effectiveness of our labour market cannot be measured only by economic outcomes. It must include the social dimensions which ensure basic rights and protection of our workers and provides special attention to the disadvantaged and marginalized in our society.
We have instituted policy measures as an important strategy within the framework of a market economy which seeks to:
minimize the negative effects on workers’ welfare;provide redress and remedy in circumstances where workers’ rights are violated, andoffer special assistance to the most vulnerable and needy.
Among the immediate initiatives to further protect the rights of all our workers, we are drafting legislative amendments to make it possible for non-unionised workers to have access to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal on the same terms and conditions as unionized workers. Our labour market policies will continue to enrich efficiency and growth while securing the rights, dignity and respect for our labour force.
Let us continue to work together in unity as we build a strong and caring nation.
May God continue to guide and bless us all and bless Jamaica, land we love.