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What are the different types of trade union in Jamaica?

What are the different types of trade union in Jamaica? || Answered by Aneisha Dobson

Labour has always played a pivotal role in the development of our Jamaican society. And although we can argue that it is been slowly replaced by automation, there are certain soft skills and competences that has yet, and perhaps may never be computerized. This leads one to assume that labour (the worker's) interest is one of management’s top priority.

However, history and reality, has proven that this is not always the case.

Here is Jamaica we have been witness to several disputes where labours have been compelled to strike and cease work operations due to unfair treatment by management.

This is where the trade unions came in.
Trade unions are defined as a group of employees formed for the purposes of representing the interests of themselves and their colleagues with the employer. They carry out various functions that are all geared towards the interests of the members.

And if you follow the history of the major dispute cases in Jamaica you will realize that trade unions have always been in the middle of them.

Some of the functions of trade unions are...

  • Obtain satisfactory rates of pay.
  • Protecting workers jobs
  • Securing adequate work facilities
  • Ensuring satisfactory work conditions, this can include areas such as health and safety and equal opportunities.
  • Negotiating bonuses for achieving targets
  • Negotiating employment conditions and job descriptions

And your question...
What are the different types of trade union in Jamaica?

There are actually four (4) types of trade unions in Jamaica:

  1. Industrial unions
  2. Blanket or general unions
  3. Staff unions
  4. Craft unions

The craft unions, though, are the least popular among the four.
Here’s a brief overview of each type.

Industrial Unions

A person’s membership in an industrial union is related to their association with a particular industry or economic activity. Therefore, this union comprises workers of different skills within the same industry.

The advantage of this composition is that the employer negotiates with only one group of employee representatives.
Some examples of Industrial Unions in Jamaica are: Jamaican Teachers Association (JTA) and Jamaica Police Federation

Blanket or General Unions

Unlike the Industrial Trade Union which focuses on a particular industry, the Blanket or General union includes workers from all industries.

Since it consist of members from all sectors, they are considered the largest and most powerful unions.
Examples of Blanket/ General Trade Unions in Jamaica: National Workers Union (NWU), Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU).

Staff Unions

This type of trade union is classified in two categories:

  1. Company unions
  2. Staff association

Company unions are formed to represent workers in a particular company. Staff associations on the other hand, are bodies that represent the interest of workers in their respective companies. They are either registered or unregistered as trade unions.

Some examples are:
UTASP – Union of Technical Administrative and Supervisory Personnel
JCSA – Jamaica Civil Service Association – (not registered as a trade union)

Craft Unions

Craft Unions are created on the basis of a particular vocation such as plumbing or electrical work.
So, members in this trade union share the same skills and tend to be very protective of their members’ jobs.

This type, however, existed before the general unions that are known today so many of our current trade unions won’t fall under this type.

What About The History Of Trade Unions In Jamaica?

We can safely say that trade unionism in Jamaica was birth by the great uproar in 1938 by disgruntled workers.
Sir Alexander Bustamante, founder of the Jamaica Labour Party, Former Prime Minister and National Hero, served as a negotiator for workers. He held public meetings that aided in addressing workers and their issues and negotiated on behalf workers.

On Thursday, May 19, 1938, Bustamante was approached by Kingston dockworkers who refused to load the ships of United Fruit Company (UFC) because demands for a wage increase were unfulfilled by of United Fruit Company (UFC).

Accompanied by Bustamante himself, the workers went on strike on Friday, May 20, 1938. He lauded the workers actions and encouraged them to remain steadfast on their strike for better wages. This led to a riot throughout the city and subsequently, Bustamante along with his colleague labour leader and fellow orator, St. William Grant, were remanded in custody by a police inspector. However, both were set free on May, 28 1938. The dockworkers were also successful in their case.

This led Bustamante to materialise his idea of trade unions as a mechanism for organizing and strengthen advocacy for workers. These led to the conception of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) in June 1983. The BITU included the following:

  • Maritime union (dockworkers, banana carriers, longshoremen)
  • Transport Workers Union (tram and railway workers as well as mechanics and chauffeurs)
  • Factory Workers Union
  • Municipal Workers Union (government workers) &
  • General Workers Union (for farmers)

Bustamante with the aid his staff, which included his wife, Gladys Longbridge, went across the island to spread the enthusing message of trade unionism.

The success of the BITU was paramount and they attained many achievements that has led to the passage of:

  • minimum wage bill
  • workmen's compensation
  • paid holidays
  • regulation of women's hours of employment
  • the creation of pension funds
  • mediation, conciliation and arbitration of disputes between employers and employees

However, the power of the trade union and its leader Bustamante became a cause of concern for the then Governor, Sir Arthur Richards. Playing the role of mediator, Norman Manley established the Trade Union Advisory Council (TU(A)C).

The aim of the council was to promote the orderly and progressive development of trade unionism in Jamaica. In the council, Manley was the legal counsel, while The BITU was granted three seats (one of which was held by Bustamante). However this union did not survive and the BITU and the (TU(A)C) parted ways.

The climax came about during World War II in 1939. Governor, Sir Arthur Richards felt that Bustamante’s advocacy for the workers was threatening to the war efforts. In addition to that, an imprisonment camp was set up at Up Park Camp where citizens of any countries with which Britain might be at war and anyone considered a threat to the war efforts were locked up. So, when Bustamante addressed a group of restless waterfront workers in September of 1940 and uttered: "I have stood for peace from the first day I have been in public life, but my patience is exhausted. This time if need be there will be blood from the rampage to the grave,” he was imprisoned under the Defence of the Realm Act.

Despite numerous protests, Bustamante remained in interment for 17 months. During his imprisonment, with the blessings of Bustamante himself, Norman Manley got involved in maintenance and running of the BITU.

However, when Bustamante was released on February 8, 1942 he believed that the socialist tendencies of the PNP deviated the union from his beliefs in free enterprise. His release restricted him form speaking in public or more than 49 persons in a building without official permission.

These events propelled Bustamante to redirect the BITU towards his philosophies and embark in political endeavours. This gave birth to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The name of the party itself foreshadowed Bustamante’s belief in advocating for workers.

During this time, Members of the People’s National Party (PNP) fixated their attention on the Trade Union Advisory Council (TU(A)C). On April 2, 1952 the TU(A)C became the National Workers Union (NWU), the trade union which today is closely aligned with the PNP.

Today, several trade unions have been formed.

Here's a list of some of the most notable trade unions in Jamaica.

  1. Union of Technical, Administrative, Supervisor Personel (UTASP)
  2. National Workers Union (NWU)
  3. Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU)
  4. Jamaica Confederation Of Trade Unions (JCTU)
  5. Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF)
  6. Jamaica Airline Pilots Association (JAPA)
  7. Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO):
  8. Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA):
  9. Jamaican Teachers Association (JTA)
  10. University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU)
  11. Union of Schools Agricultural and Allied Workers (USAAW):
  12. Jamaica Workers Union
  13. Medical Association of Jamaica
  14. Nurses Association of Jamaica
  15. Police Officers Association
  16. Jamaica Police Federation
  17. Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA)

Until next time…

P.S. Have another question? Submit it here for an answer.


  • Company, G. (2002, Septemeber 9). Equal Rights & Pay - The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP. Retrieved from Old Jamaica Company:
  • Gleaner Company. (n.d.). National Workers' Week - Trade Unions in Jamaica. Retrieved from DIG Jamaica:
  • Jamaica Information Service. (2006, October 11). Trade Unions Have Contributed To National Development – Senator Nelson. Retrieved from Jamaica Information Service:
  • Jamaica Trade Union. (2019). TRADE UNION GROUPS IN JAMAICA. Retrieved from Jamaica Trade Union:

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