Strategies for Reducing Unemployment
George DePeana, Caribbean Congress of Labour, Barbados
Simeon Robinson, Association of Development Agencies, Jamaica
DePeana highlighted that since Copenhagen the situation as regards to
rates and standards of employment has got worse. He drew attention to
commitment 3 of the Copenhagen consensus, which states Putting employment
generation at the center of government policies especially to combat unemployment
and underemployment among women, young people, people with disabilities
and disadvantage groups.
He pointed out that Barbados and Trinidad &
Tobago have both seen a decline in unemployment, whilst in rest of the
region rates have increased. He stated that globalization, trade liberalization
and privatization have all conspired to the detriment of many workers
in the region as the Caribbean industrial and services sectors had to
compete in a more hostile environment. He said that this has not been
matched with effective or appropriate training and retraining of the Caribbean
work force to cope with the changes.
He stated that there was also a major problem
in the region as regards to the issue of underemployment. Mr. DePeana
noted that unemployment figures could be as much as 30% in some countries.
This he said was exacerbated by the absence of programmes in the region
to mitigate the worst effects of unemployment. He said that with the exception
of Barbados no other Caribbean country has put in place an unemployment
relief scheme. He indicated however that even in Barbados this programme
has had to be rolled back in response to great pressure due to the rise
in unemployment in the mid-nineties.
indicated that such programmes were needed now more than ever since several
major industries are being affected by international trade regulations
that are causing businesses to release workers. This he said was evident
in relation to bananas, but not limited to this industry.
He stated that another area that has been causing
increases in unemployment was in the changing standards of employment
in the region. In this regard, he pointed to the escalation of contract
work particularly in low-income jobs. He said this was in addition to
such contract employment which does not guarantee full time employment
and has been the out sourcing of work to firms which provide
He said that another feature of impact on rates
of employment in the Caribbean was that of self-employment. Mr. DePeana
indicated that because of the negative impact of structural adjustment
which caused increased unemployment in the region, many Caribbean people
have been forced to find alternative sources of employment. He said that
this meant that many had to resort to developing small businesses in the
non-traded and non-traditional sectors. These included cottage industries
and micro-retailing where risks were relatively small and the return reasonable.
He noted however that even in these areas
regional governments have not been very supportive of persons engaged
in these areas of activities. Instead a number of governments have sought
to increase the level of regulation and control over these activities.
One worrisome aspect he identified with this type of activity is the unstable
and unpredictable nature of the business which he said was matched by
the lack of security and protection of the future of persons engaged in
Mr. DePeana argued that all of these features
were providing for a changing work environment and indeed the relationship
between capital and labour. Most of all, he argued that employment could
not be seen in traditional terms any longer, but rather as a function
of the realignment of priorities in socio-economic and political policies.
He said that while in many countries the rate of unemployment might have
abated and even decreased it has not necessarily meant better conditions
of work or living for workers.
To further illustrate his point he made
reference to the emergence of a disregard for the well-being and importance
of workers in the commercial and productive process. He said that in many
countries in the region there have been moves by several non-Caribbean
investors to deny workers fundamental rights and privileges to which they
have become accustomed. Mr. De Peana pointed to the disputes in Barbados
and St. Vincent and other places, between foreign investors and local
labour unions over the right of workers to join institutions of their
said that this has been a particularly dangerous trend in the region that
has not attracted sufficient attention from regional governments; despite
the fact these actions are contrary to several ILO Conventions on freedom
of association and collective bargaining.
He pointed out the very poor conditions of service
that workers have been faced with, particularly that of a lack of minimum
wage legislation. This he said has severely hampered the growth of incomes
in the region, and by extension the reduction of poverty. He said that
there also needed to be a concerted effort by regional governments to
undertake and update labour legislation reform to properly protect workers
in this very hostile international economic and social environment.
In terms of future employment strategies
Mr. DePeana argued that greater attention had to be paid to areas such
as agriculture, and technical applications. In this respect he said that
it was his belief that much of the future employment in these areas must
however be on the side of ownership and access to resources by the workers
of the region. Governments must be bold enough to provide the facilities
necessary to encourage Caribbean people to own their own business.
He concluded by addressing the need to examine
the issue of decent work. He said that while this issue has not been major
in the Caribbean it is one that is likely to emerge in the future as investors
become more aggressive in their quest for cheap labour.
He also concluded that for all of this to
succeed the region must be prepared to train and retrain its work forces
with a view to developing multi-skilled workers capable of fitting into
a new and very competitive working environment.
Mr. Robinson began his brief response by asking
delegates to focus on the role of the State in the employment equation.
He said that for some time the State has been seen as the principal provider
of employment. This has changed radically in the past decades with the
emergence of a neo-liberal agenda which placed this burden of employment
creation with the private sector the so-called engine of the economy.
Mr. Robinson argued that a major part of the problem has been that the
private sector has not been able to provide the kinds of economic growth
necessary for meaningful job creation.
In this regard, he said that he felt that
there was still a role for government in the process of employment generation,
though he was confident that this could be done anytime soon. Using Jamaica
as an example he said that in 1999 the government spent more money in
debt service than it spent on capital or social development expenditure.
He said that if any progress is to be made in creating successful employment
strategies then government had to re-intervene in the job creating market:
not necessarily as a personal provider of employment but in providing
the appropriate mechanisms for job creation.
He highlighted the need for an increased spending
in areas such as education, and retraining as critical to this overall
strategy: in areas such as information technologies and micro-business
enterprises which are the new areas that will provide the employment opportunities.
He said that they would not be able to fully utilize them if the State
does not provide leadership in these areas.
He agreed with Mr. DePeana that a need for
labour legislation reform was critical, but disagreed that this had to
be done in a manner to accommodate the new economic thinking. He said
that like the presenter he was sure that much of this reform would have
to be to protect the interests of workers and the gains that they have
made over the years.
He also agreed with the view that more attention
had to be placed on educating the work force. In this regard Mr. Robinson
argued that the issue was not only about increased expenditure on education,
but also about how well those resources were targeted. He called for more
training on higher education in technical and vocational disciplines to
better equip workers of the region to participate in the newly emerging