National Labour Day Message by Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Our workers are the backbone of our country; they keep the wheels of our economy turning.
We know that our continued economic recovery is dependent on our people, and we are committed to preserving the hard-won rights and liberties of the Jamaican worker to include, proper wages and working conditions.
The Government is actively pursuing ways to increase workers’ benefits, for example, we are examining the feasibility of implementing Unemployment Insurance in Jamaica, to assist workers who become unemployed, through no fault of their own.
This would temporarily provide workers with partial income relief while they search for new employment.
Additionally, Unemployment Insurance support would facilitate the acquisition of new skills to increase and improve their employability in the job market.
Of course, the most important role of government for workers is to ensure that the economy is growing and generating employment.
Jamaica is recovering from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy is growing, and more and more jobs have been created. Jamaica’s unemployment rate of 6.2% in January 2022 is the lowest ever recorded in Jamaica’s history. In spite of turbulent times, Jamaica is still heading in the right direction. This shows the strength of our macroeconomy and the resilience of our labour force.
However, this recovery is still a work in progress.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, have unleashed the greatest wave of global inflation seen in over 40 years. Import prices of fuel and foods are rising in all countries around the world at the same time. While we all know that this inflation has causes outside of Jamaica, it still does not make it easy to absorb.
These external shocks are occurring against the background of Jamaica’s long fiscal adjustment which was secured by the sacrifice of the workers which resulted in a rehabilitation of our economy but had real impacts on public sector salaries.
In addition, there are many instances where the structure of public sector compensation is unfair and is inequitable. This is so in central government as well as in public bodies.
The inequities in the structure of public sector compensation are not new and did not arise overnight. Decades of tinkering with compensation systems without solving fundamental issues are contributing factors.
However, this government, your government has decided to take on this decades old problem, because we care about our workers, and we recognize that the current structure is untenable.
This Government, your government, working in partnership with public sector unions, made the decision for us to all engage in the hard work of addressing the structural inequities in public sector compensation through a major public sector compensation restructuring exercise.
The restructuring exercise is designed to remove inequities, make compensation simpler and more transparent while ensuring that Jamaica’s finances remain sustainable.
We recognize that it will not be an easy process, there is pent up anger, mistrust from broken promises, and contentious issues to grapple with. However, rest assured your government is listening.
As a nation, our industrial relations has matured significantly since 1938.
The Government recognizes the significant social and civic capital in our labour movement, and we are confident that together labour and Government can cooperate to usher in the most significant institutional reform of public sector compensation in Jamaica’s history and further to see to the improvement in standard of living and wages generally in the economy.
We recognize too, the importance of utilizing the systems and mechanisms in place to resolve industrial disputes to ensure our economy remains stable so we can be better equipped to respond to the needs of our valued labour force.
We banded together to get through the worst of the pandemic, let us remain united as we emerge into a period where Jamaica is poised for economic take-off and success. Jamaica is heading in the right direction. Together as one family let us sit down around the negotiation table to see how we can make everyone better off.
The theme for this year’s Workers’ Week is “Re-position Jamaica’s Labour Market Post-COVID”; capturing perfectly the thrust of the government which is to place greater emphasis on our country’s human resources to unlock Jamaica’s true potential, and to increase opportunities and shared prosperity for all. We are even more determined to achieve this as we celebrate our 60th anniversary of Independence.
After two years, this labour day finds us enjoying some freedom of movement and gathering. We are able to return to some level of normalcy, our children are in school, and our economy is returning to full productivity, because of the collective sacrifice and cooperation of all Jamaicans, and most critically, because of the dedicated work of our frontline and essential workers and to them we remain deeply thankful.
The freedom to be out and about this labour day means we can mobilize to a greater degree within our communities and across the country, as we action this year’s Labour Day theme “Re-igniting a Nation for Greatness: Protect our Heritage and Environment” which calls on us to “Make Jamaica Criss an Clean.”
However, we must do so responsibly, especially as we are now closely monitoring the effects of a fifth wave of the pandemic, you saw me in my mask earlier.
I will be participating in the National Project at Mandela Park in Half-Way- Tree. I invite all Jamaicans to come together in your various communities and clean up, criss’ up and nice up the place. And oh, by the way, I know many of you will be going out to parties and going to the beach, please…please, please, please, drive carefully. Use our roads carefully.
As Jamaicans, let us tap into our resilience, creativity and indomitable spirit and control what we can in the face of challenges. Let us shake off the difficulties of the last two years and take advantage of the opportunities before us. Together, as we have shown many times in the past we will arrive at satisfactory solutions. Jamaica needs to stay the course as we are heading in the right direction.
Happy Labour Day, God bless you, God bless your family, God bless Jamaica Land We Love.