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A recent report released by the the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has highlighted what many Jamaicans interested in the welfare of the Jamaican worker have long suspected. The report, which received some coverage, shows that Jamaica has fallen in the international ranking for workers’ rights, and stated that in Jamaica the rights of the worker is regularly violated.

For clarity, the ITUC rankings go from 1 – 6. 1 is the best and marks sporadic violations of rights, 2 repeated violations, 3 regular violations 4 systemic violations of rights, 5 no guarantee of rights, and 5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law.

Jamaica has dropped from number 2 on the list, a nation which has repeated violations of workers’ rights, to number 3, a nation which has regular violations of workers’ rights.

This is where understanding that words, however similar they are or seem to be in meaning, actually speak of totally different things, and how we use them is important. Repeatedly simply means to do something again or more than once. By definition that could be doing the same thing three times and it’s over. Regular, on the other hand, is a more precise definition stating that it means conforming to or being governed by an accepted standard of procedure or convention.

The difference there when the definitions are laid out is drastic: regular means it’s a constant, maybe not all the time but frequent enough that you can set your watch to it like the hurricane season. One is something that has the possibility of ending in the not-too-distant future while the other denotes a constant pattern on behaviour.

The abuses highlighted in this report mainly cover the issues faced by BPO workers — the new plantation. They speak of the lack of unionisation in the sector, where it is implied that the BPOs have government sanction to fire people for trying to organise unions in the industry. They speak of the lack of ability to take industrial action, the fact that worker breaks are routinely shortened or simply not provided.

The horrors of the BPO industry and the exorbitant privileges the companies enjoy by being listed as Free Zones — or Special Economic Zones if you prefer — have been well documented and the willingness of both parties, which have close ties to unions, to sell out the Jamaican worker has been evident for all.

True, the industry is one of if not the largest employer, something we are constantly reminded of, but an industry with such a high turnover rate, notoriously harsh anti-worker regulations, and the propensity to see the majority of its capital repatriated is hardly the long-term boon to the Jamaican economy or the bringer of prosperity to its people.

But the plight of the Jamaican worker extends beyond the BPO sector as seen by members of the disabled community. The failure to fully implement the Disabilities Act after its passage means that to this date there are no sanctions for companies that refuse to hire disabled people who are suitably qualified for the post. Disabled people still receive short thrift being underpaid, given part-time instead of full-time status, and the refusal of health care benefits.

Security workers, while grateful about the recent ruling which now categorises them as employees, now face the serious threats of layoffs and wage reductions from companies who, after spending decades assuming that the status quo would maintain, failed to foresee and prepare for such events and are now forced to increase costs by up to 55 per cent, which will see fewer places employ security guards, leading to a major loss of jobs.

Public sector workers of all stripes are facing the threats of worker repression, this time coming from the central government. The proposed wage and compensation packages have been roundly rejected by most unions and some have even taken to industrial action.

Strike breaking has been the response by the State along with shifting of the blame onto workers by labelling them as greedy, over demanding, and refusing to adjust to economic realities.

Striking teachers were met with a deaf ear and insults, with real discussion of bringing in student teachers to stand in for the striking teachers.

The report is very welcome. It is yet more proof that the Jamaican worker, like workers all over the world, is facing an existential threat to how they operate. As global capitalism continues its downward trend, which began in 2008, countries have embarked on the path of austerity and whittling away worker rights to sure up industries which would otherwise be failing.

This has resulted in tax giveaways for companies and people who are obscenely wealthy — using the excuse that with the cuts and giveaways more taxes will be collected — while the burden is shifted to the worker.

The administration praises the performance of the economy, the growth which companies have been experiencing and the mass hiring which is taking place. All of which is happening as those same workers don’t get a decent wage, are unable to organize, find decent housing or access the natural wonders of the nation.

As the world continues to leave the unipolar moment and enter a multipolar one, both global and local capitalists will seek to sure up their position which will naturally be at the expense of the workers. The creation of sweatshops and the decimation of existing rights will only be the beginning as seen by Australia which is now ranked at 4, or the UK again at 4, nations which have cowed their unions into such submission that zero hour contracts are the norm in large sectors of those economies.

Reports from the ITUC tell us that we have a fight on our hands and we need to be ready to face it. The plight of the workers includes land and access to it, housing, transportation and the list goes on. They must be addressed if the worker is not to slip back into the bad old days of pre-labour law Jamaica. We either see this as the dire warning that it is, and act, or we will wake up and find that all that has been fought for and won has been lost.

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