It has been almost three quarters of a century since the tumultuous events of 1938 in which the working class people of Jamaica, after a long, hard struggle, secured recognition of their rights under the colonial government. Throughout those years, the process of institutionalizing those rights in law and practice has significantly advanced. The trade union movement continues to be a significant institution in its impact on our economic and social development. Its advocacy on behalf of workers and its vigilance in protecting and enhancing their rights is strong.

As we observe Labour Day, we must reflect on the contribution of those whose lives were dedicated to building the labour movement: Sir Alexander Bustamante, Ken Hill, Father Coombs, Florizel Glasspole, L.G. Newland, Thossy Kelly, Hugh Shearer, Michael Manley and others. We recognize, as well, the work of those who came after them, including those who now lead the union movement.

Much has changed over these years. The labour market is, today, much more diverse and complex than it was in 1938. Science and technology, globalization and changing trade patterns have redesigned the labour landscape. The very nature of the workplace has changed. We have not always embraced these changes and adapted ourselves to the new realities. Yet, we must, if we are to secure our place in the global marketplace and provide the jobs – good quality, sustainable jobs – that our people need.

Labour market practices must continue to be transformed in recognition of the fact that investors have vastly expanded options. And let us be clear, investment is a pre-requisite for job creation. A skilled, competent workforce is required if we are to attract investment in this knowledge-driven age. Hence, our efforts to transform our education and training programmes are a priority that must be pursued vigorously and relentlessly.

Labour Day is an appropriate time to recommit ourselves to ensuring that not only are the rights of our workers respected and protected but, also, that we equip and position our workforce to be not just a beneficiary but a catalyst for the investment that must drive our economic development.

Today, as we have done every year for almost 40 years, we will devote our time and energy to our communities, labouring for national upliftment and development. Thousands of Jamaicans will put work into Labour Day, engaging in various community projects, adding value to their communities.

It means more than the repairs that will be done to schools, community centres and other public facilities. It means more than the beautification projects to be carried out, the assistance that will be rendered to our less fortunate. It is  a demonstration of our ability to come together on our streets and in our communities, find common purpose and work together for the good of our country. That is the spirit that builds strong nations. That is the kind of unity that, if sustained, if it can become instinctive to us as a people, will make us a strong nation.

A happy and productive Labour Day to all Jamaica.

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