Unions Face New Challenges in Changing Work Environment


Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding has said that the country’s trade unions will have to, in partnership with government, adapt to a number of challenges that have changed the labour landscape.
Mr. Golding, who was addressing the public session of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) triennial general assembly at the Jamaica Conference Centre on Saturday (Nov. 10), said the profile of the work landscape is shifting, with statistics showing that there are fewer persons now employed in the goods producing sectors. In 1987, he noted, some 449,000 persons were employed in the sector, and this figure now stands at 394,000.
With this decline attributable to displacement of workers through closures and downsizing, Mr. Golding said, many of the persons who were formerly employed in the sector are now involved in ther “unpredictable” income-earning activities. These persons he said, have therefore “left the grasp of the trade union movement”, and this poses a serious challenge to the unions, not just in terms of its membership base, but also how it operates. Mr. Golding said that this has led the trade unions to examine issues of adaptation and its relevance and role in this new environment.
The Prime Minister also pointed to changes at the bargaining table, noting that negotiations often had to be more concerned with job security rather than improved pay and working conditions. He said with security of employment under stress, workers and the unions representing them now had to decide what sacrifices they were prepared to make, to secure jobs.
Prime Minister Golding further said that formerly, the local labour force was protected by the prevention of the entry of foreign goods into the local market. However, he pointed out that the country now operates in a borderless world where new international trading arrangements have made this exclusivity impossible.
“We have a serious challenge to look at how we are going to fit into this new scheme of things,” he remarked, adding that not only does Jamaica have difficulty penetrating the external markets, but is also being challenged locally, by the influx of imported goods.
All of this, the Prime Minister said, has made the country no longer among a select list of investment-attractive destinations, and instead, with global competitiveness intensifying, Jamaica is now one of a much larger list of possibilities for investments. “It means that we have to make ourselves more attractive. We have to do what is necessary to improve the environment for business, and improve the environment for productivity,” he said. Assistant General Secretary of the BITU, Kavan Gayle was unanimously endorsed as the new president of the BITU.

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