Today is the culmination of a week-long celebration of the Jamaican Worker and a commemoration of the Labour Movement in Jamaica. Citizens across the Island, supported by the government, are volunteering their time, labour and resources to undertake meaningful projects to improve their communities and the nation as a whole.
The theme for Workers Week 2019 was, “Yes to Decent Work, no to Child Labour”. Our government is committed to the Jamaican Worker. We believe that the only sustainable way to secure peace, social equity, economic independence, prosperity and personal fulfillment for all Jamaicans is through work; that sacred process by which our physical labour and mental ability creates wealth, or as simply put by the Bible, “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.”
We want every Jamaican to have the opportunity to work, to have a job, to be employed. In January 2019, our unemployment rate stood at 8% the lowest ever recorded. Male unemployment at that time fell by 1.3% to 6.1%, female unemployment fell by 1.9% to 10.3% and youth unemployment fell by 2% to 21.8%.
We are proud to say that more Jamaicans are employed today than at any other time in our independent history. More Jamaicans; men, women and youth from all walks of life are engaged in that sacred process of transforming their labour and creativity into wealth, earning a living from their effort, eating their own bread through work; not by crime, not by immoral means, not by dependency, not by pity; but by work!
As we move towards full employment of labour, the government is paying keen attention to the quality of jobs and the conditions of work. We are committed to the Decent Work agenda. This means empowering our citizens with education and training to make them marketable, employable and productive in a competitive labour market and economy, thereby attracting and generating high quality jobs in our economy.
It means creating a legal and regulatory environment around the process of work where the dignity, equal rights, and fair remuneration of the worker are secured and enhanced. Decent work means creating a value system in our society where work and the worker is respected, and promoted,and reinforced as the pathway for social mobility, economic independence.
Decent work means creating a safe and secure environment in the place of work to preserve the life and health of the worker. Decent work means giving the worker a voice in the process and placing the human element at the centre of development.
In fulfillment of our Decent Work Agenda, our government has increased its effort and resources in making our citizens workforce ready. Through the Career Advancement Programme, the Hope Programme, and the Jamaica National Service Corps, tens of thousands of young Jamaicans are made work ready, and tens of thousands more continue to be trained through the traditional modalities of the HEART Trust National Training Agency.
We have tabled the Occupational Safety and Health Bill which is now making its way through a joint select committee of Parliament.When this bill is passed it will establish a robust legal framework to protect and enhance the health and safety of the Jamaican Worker in the workplace.
To protect one of our most vulnerable group of workers the government ratified the Convention concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (c189) which seeks to set employment standards and secure rights for domestic workers.
According to the Jamaica National Youth Activity Survey published in 2018, an estimated 38,000 Jamaican youth between the ages of five (5) and seventeen (17) years are involved in child labour, and 26,000 work in hazardous conditions, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Culturally, many Jamaicans see nothing wrong with having our children work at an early age and contribute to the economic security of their household. Indeed, many parents see this as instilling good values and personal responsibility at an early age.However, when work diverts the child from school to the market, or the child is taken to assist in burning coal, or package household cleaning chemicals in the family business for sale, or the child is diverted from their education into activities that harm their moral development, such as the sex trade, lottery scamming and adult domestic relationships, this becomes not only a criminal matter in some instances, but a serious national development issue.
This Labour Day, as we reflect on the struggle of the labour movement and the pivotal events of 1938, and the sacrifice of our forebears to secure better pay, better conditions and justice for workers, let us as the beneficiaries of that struggle, commit to secure an even better future for children and those who come after us. It is a false and foolish belief that pulling your child out of school on a Thursday or a Friday to work in the field or sell in the market will help to alleviate the poverty of your family.
All this does is to deprive the child of important lessons being taught at school and causes them to fall behind other children who stayed in school and got the full benefit of all lessons taught. Putting your child to work at the expense of their education does not create wealth for your household, instead it reinforces the vicious cycle poverty.Overcoming poverty requires sacrifice.
In the same way Busta was willing to sacrifice himself for the protesting dock workers, as parents you must be willing to make the same sacrifice for your children in the face of poverty and think more progressively about their future. You must make that sacrifice to keep them in school. The government has increased the PATH benefit and the number of days children benefit from school lunches.While it is never enough, parents who find themselves in the dilemma of taking their children out of school to work, should seek to utilize this benefit as much as possible.
The truth is that progress of the generations is only achieved when your child does better than you did. Give them the best chance at a good education so that they can have access to decent work.From a human capital perspective, the government sees Child Labour as a serious threat to the development of a highly educated and skilled labour force and significant work is being done to train labour officers and social workers to increase awareness,inspections and enforcement in this area.The theme for today, Labour Day 2019 is, "Child Safety...It’s You, It’s Me, It’s All Ah We".
As we commit to volunteer our labour and resources to work on projects for the good of the community, I encourage you to focus on areas where our children play and traverse and make those areas safe. Play is an important part of the complete development of a child, mentally and physically.Unfortunately, many communities do not have the infrastructure to afford our children the opportunity to play, and many parents discourage their children from playing.
Thankfully, more parents are beginning to understand that play is the child’s work and we must create the safe place and opportunity for our children to play, in structured and supervised ways. So, this labour day, consider cleaning up and de-bushing the community park or play field, it is not too difficult to make swings and jungle gyms from old tyres.
And while we are at it, let’s start the conversation with our children to encourage them to report to a responsible adult, anyone, who may be encouraging them in uncomfortable ways, abusing them, molesting or grooming them to moral danger. Let’s talk on the child molesters and abusers in our communities.
This Labour Day, let’s make our communities safe for our children. "Child Safety...It’s You, It’s Me, It’s All Ah We".
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