My fellow Jamaicans,
Ever since independence in 1962, we have observed May 23rd as Labour Day. It is the day we set aside to commemorate the struggles and achievements of the workers of Jamaica and their fight for collective recognition as an integral part of our economy and society.
We recall the heroic efforts of those pioneers who led the struggle in the 1930s – Alexander Bustamante, St. William Grant, Father AGS Coombs, Ken Hill, Florizel Glasspole, Aggie Bernard, among others – who came to the defence of the defenceless and challenged the colonial powers to secure the rights of workers to representation and collective bargaining. Their efforts did not only lead to the establishment of workers’ rights. They paved the way for our modern democracy by securing the universal right to vote for the first time in 1944.
So, today, we honour them and all those who have followed in their footsteps and carried the mantle of their mission.
Today, we reflect on the advancement that has been made in labour relations and the institutionalization of good labour management practices. And, as we do so, we must be mindful that we live in a constantly changing environment to which we must always be prepared to adapt. Solid as these foundations are, they must be capable of supporting change, innovation and the embrace of new ideas and practices that will further advance the gains of the workers.
Globalization has created a virtual world single market which no longer affords us the luxury of “doing our own thing”. The market for goods and services, for ideas and labour, now stretches across vast oceans and continents and our ability, as a nation and economy, to be relevant and competitive, hinges on our adopting international best practices. And these best practices require us to review our place at the workplace and our approach to the bargaining table. The worker’s welfare cannot be separated from the worker’s output. And the worker’s output cannot be divorced from the management’s input. Negotiations cannot be about what I want and what you are prepared to offer but, rather, what we, together, can and must do so that both of us can be better off.
The government is committed to reviving discussions among the stakeholders toward the reform of the labour market. This process must involve, among other things, improving efficiency at the workplace through worker training, improved management practices, a consensus-building approach to production and performance and more pro-active grievance settlement procedures.
Since 1972, the celebration of Labour Day has taken the form of contributing our labour to improving the quality of life and each Labour Day is given a particular theme. The theme this year is “Eat what we grow and grow what we eat”. It is a theme that resonates with the times, given the food crisis that is gripping the world and impacting so heavily on us in Jamaica in the form of sky-rocketing prices.
We will not be able to continue importing as much food as we have done in the past. The poor, especially, cannot afford it. We have to grow more food to feed ourselves and, therefore, we have embarked on a major food production drive. Much of this will be achieved through new agricultural projects using improved technology. But much can also be achieved through self effort. Each of us can grow something to help us beat the rising food prices. If we have a bit of land lying idle, let’s put it to work; let’s plant something on it. If we have a little space in our backyard, don’t just leave it there; plant something on it.
So, the work for Labour Day is to plant….plant something useful – vegetables, root crops, fruit trees.
We have distributed 200,000 packs of seeds to students above Grade 7 and we hope that households will make it a family project on Labour Day, to turn our yards into food production centres.
The National and Parish Labour Day Committees have identified a number of community projects to establish school gardens so that our schools can also become food production centres. Groups, such as the JAS branches and 4-H Clubs, will be prominently engaged.
Food is an absolute necessity. We can import it or produce it; we can buy it or grow it ourselves. Nothing is more worthy of our effort on this Labour Day than ensuring that we are better able to feed ourselves. Let’s devote ourselves to that task this Labour Day.
Let’s eat what we grow and grow what we eat.
May God bless you.
My fellow Jamaicans,