Labour Minister Velon John: Are employers
ignoring his warning that last February’s consultation
extension would be the last?
American workers and employers celebrated Labour Day on September 2,
St Lucia’s employers met, for the umpteenth time, to launch yet
another assault on the draft Labour Code, this time to feature over
500 additional “concerns” identified by two hired overseas
consultants. Local workers and the unions, on the other hand, stood
by, watched and listened.
But while St Lucian workers in the USA
joined their employers and New York’s politicians for the Labour Day
Parade in Brooklyn, the American media put the spotlight on the
workers and their bosses in the richest country on earth.
the current focus on the financial scandals rocking corporate
America, the media researchers calculated that if workers’ wages had
kept up with the salaries of their bosses, they would be five times
better off today. The research revealed, for example, that if wages
grew as fast as the salaries of Americas top CEOs, the hourly wage
rate would have been over US$21 per hour, as against the current
rate of just over US$4 per hour.
But Caribbean workers, many of
whom earn a pittance in comparison to real wage rates in the USA and
are denied real wage increases, were jumping-up in the rain with
Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki, both of whom were
out seeking Caribbean votes for upcoming elections.
There was no
such cause for celebration by St Lucia workers and their unions,
however, as the nation’s employers once more reaffirmed their
opposition to the draft Labour Code. They have made no bones about
the fact that they want it killed.
Last February, the government
conceded to the umpteenth call by the employers for an extension of
the time for “consultations” on the draft code which was prepared
with inputs from the government, the Private Sector and the Trade
Unions under the guidance of a consultant hired by the International
Labour Organisation (ILO).
Although several rounds of meetings
had already been held and several deadlines reached and extensions
granted, the Labour Minister granted a further extension of another
six months, this time from February to August 2002. He indicated at
the time that this would have been the final extension, but it’s now
clear—from what they themselves are saying today—that the employers
either did not take the minister seriously or they simply dismissed
Any observers would have noted that a clear
pattern has developed during the past two years that has clearly
indicated employers were simply employing delaying tactics and
“playing for time.”
During the over two years of “consultations”
the private sector leaders have increased their number of “concerns”
about the 12-chapter draft code from 245 to the phenomenal number of
688. The two hired guns have blasted holes right through the
document. At an average of 22 per chapter, they claim to have
discovered three times the amount of “concerns” found by the local
private sector’s own lawyers—who also helped draft the Draft Code as
part of the ILO-guided process. (The employers say they have already
spent over $250,000 to tabulate their hundreds of
I’ve heard all that the employers have had to say on
the Labour Code since the consultation process began and from what
they have said each time, I have come to the definite conclusion
that they are simply out to use delaying tactics with the hope that
they can summon enough opposition to eventually kill the code dead.
I mean, how else to describe a process that throws up almost 700
concerns about a document twelve chapters long—and in which they too
had a significant input?
If the employers really want to be
ridiculous and simply concentrate on producing an endless list of
concerns, there are “consultants” right here who can give them a
thousand—and for less than the price they paid. (For example, I’m
sure if I ask “constitutional lawyer” Martinus Francois for a list
of a thousand things that he’s concerned about regarding the
Constitution of Saint Lucia, he will deliver, providing he is
adequately compensated.) After all, even former Director of Culture
Jacques Compton has found so many faults with the way the Bible is
written that he wants to see it re-written altogether. And he’s got
support from Frank Girard.
The thing is that before the Draft
Labour Code, there was already a Labour Code in existence which the
employers never seem to have bothered with. Besides, the consultant
who guided the exercise was hired, not by the Prime Minister or the
Government of St Lucia, but by the International Labour Organisation
(ILO), which is a branch of the United Nations. And further, it is
my understanding that much of what the employers are concerned about
is already law—a fact that has eluded the scrutiny of the private
sector’s two hired guns.
The Draft Code is a document to guide
the tripartite social partners: the government, the trade unions and
the employers’ organisations. However, observers have noted that the
only social partners persistently finding fault so far have been the
employers. And by their procrastination, it is clear they want the
status quo to remain.
But not too far behind the employers are
some of my colleagues in the media—those who can’t hear a pin drop
without looking for a way to blame the government. And they have
wasted no time picking up the employers’ line that the document is
not good enough.
The employers called a lunchtime meeting to
announce their latest “findings” about the Labour Code and even
before the meeting got under way, just as lunch was about to be
served, I heard a seasoned media colleague pronouncing on his
station’s lunchtime news edition that the Prime Minister’s “words”
about the Labour Code “can prove embarrassing” to him. And coverage
of the issue so far has concentrated on what the employers’ position
is, rather than how all three social partners think.
absolutely no doubt what the employers want to do with the Labour
Code. And from the things they have already started saying about the
consultant appointed by the UN to draft the Labour Code, I have no
doubt that the next step in their plan is to inject a political
dimension that will involve targeting the ILO consultant and the
fact that she is the Prime Minister’s wife.
It’s now for the
trade unions and the government—the other two partners in the
tripartite arrangement—to decide what their next step will be in the
As for me, I maintain that the employers are out
to kill the Labour Code dead, dead, dead. And the more delaying
tactics I see, the more I am convinced.
How on earth the
employers’ organisations want St Lucia to meet the challenges of
globalisation with a plethora of backward and antiquated labour laws
is beyond my comprehension. How they can be ready to comply with
other aspects of international law and refuse to accept
international labour and health standards beats me even more. Now
the employers are seeking to draw a dividing line between what the
Prime Minister says and what the Labour Minister says—as if the two
are not in sync on the issue.
It is ridiculous, if not
mischievous, if not sinister, for the employers to suggest that the
Prime Minister gave them the impression he was in no hurry to see
the Labour Code passed or to suggest that the Labour Minister does
not know what the Prime Minister wants.
The Labour Minister’s
warning last February that the six-month extension to the end of
August and the new deadline would be the last was obviously not
taken seriously by the employers. For that they should blame
themselves. They cannot expect the government to continue to
facilitate these lengthy and interminable delays in the name of
consultations that only result in providing more reasons or excuses
for requesting more time for more new arguments and concerns to be
added to what already exists. If the government and the unions
continue to facilitate this game, when will it end?
I am not at
all fooled by this Tom Foolery. I’ve been around too long not to
know deliberate obstruction when I see it.
And further, as the
saying goes, I’m too old a cat to be fooled by a kitten.