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News - The United Nations (U.N) Millennium Development Goals and their relevance to the Ministry of Labour
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Labour News.

The United Nations (U.N) Millennium Development Goals and their relevance to the Ministry of Labour

By Mark Franklin, Ministry of Labour

Background to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The millennium development goals were adopted during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. There are eight goals that U.N member states have pledged to achieve by the year 2015 and are basically representative of a global attempt to formulate minimal economic and social floors of development for all the world’s countries. The MDGs consist of commitments by participating countries to:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

These goals are further broken down into 18 targets and 48 technical indicators which were devised with the intention of objectively measuring the progress made towards the attainment of the goals. A review of the goals and their corresponding indicators reveal that they are multi-faceted in nature and essentially deal with a series of cross cutting issues, ranging from the social scourges of poverty and disease, to gender equality and the sustainability of the environment. Given their multi-dimensional nature, it is apparent that for each member state, their achievement would be dependent on a concerted commitment from governments, private sector and civil society.

Though the economic and social attributes of such an initiative can be easily acknowledged, an analysis of the concept from a labour related perspective may not be as clear-cut. This article outlines labour related issues that must be assessed if the are to be successfully achieved and highlights the potential contribution of the Labour Ministry towards their achievement.

In Barbados, the Ministry of Labour is involved in a number of activities including the following: (i) Industrial Relations (ii) Inspection of the physical condition of factories (iii) Collecting and disseminating labour market statistics (iv) development of labour legislation and (v) identifying local and overseas employment opportunities for Barbadian workers

A review of some of the activities reveals that some areas of mutual interest exist between the work of the Ministry and some of the MDGs. With respect to the MDGs, the Labour Ministry is actively involved in:

  • Promoting the concept of decent work as a key mechanism in the fight against poverty (goal 1)
  • Collecting and publishing gender-based statistics through media such as quarterly statistical bulletins and the analysis of trends within the labour market by sex. (goal 3)
  • Implementing policies and programmes for combating HIV/AIDS in the workplace (goal 6)
  • Encouraging environmental sustainability through Occupational Safety and Health Legislation (goal 7)

A review of some of these goals can now be outlined in more detail. Goal 1
This poverty-focused goal is arguably the most recognized of the MDGs. It includes the often-quoted targets of (1) reducing by half, the proportion of persons worldwide living on less than a dollar per day and (2) reducing by half, the proportion of persons who suffer from hunger. The potential link between this particular goal and the work of the Labour Ministry can be identified through the key I.L.O concept of decent work, along with its four components. As an introduction, the four components of decent work consist of:

  • Employment Creation
  • Rights at work
  • Social Protection
  • Social Dialogue

According to the I.L.O ,

"Decent work is central to efforts to reduce poverty, and is a means for achieving equitable, inclusive and sustainable development."

The role of decent work in the fight against poverty can therefore be further appreciated when it is considered that under this concept, workers (a) have access to a sufficient level of remuneration that allows them to satisfy their basic needs (b) work in safe and healthy conditions and (c) are provided with avenues to receive social protection benefits such as unemployment insurance.

In terms of the operations of the Labour Ministry, there are plans to set up a Minimum Wages Board which would, among other things, advise the Minister of Labour on all matters relating to minimum wages and general terms and conditions of service. Occupational Health and Safety legislation has been passed in Parliament. In respect of the social dialogue component, the Ministry of Labour is considered to be a critical focal point in the Barbados Social Partnership and provides vital conciliation services in the conflicts occurring between management and employees in both public and private sector entities.

Goal 3

In realtion to Goal 3, i.e to promote gender equality and empower women, the Ministry recognizes the importance of gender analysis. This involves the timely collection, review and dissemination of gender-based statistics which are provided by a diverse number of agencies such as the Barbados Statistical Services, the Labour Department and the Immigration Department. These statistics in turn can be used to objectively assess any progress made towards the achievement of gender equality in the society.

Goal 6

The Ministry continues to place a special emphasis on the HIV/AIDS element contained within MDG number six. A tripartite HIV/AIDS core group committee has been formed to deal with issues concerning HIV/AIDS in the workplace. This Committee comprises representatives from entities such as the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, the Barbados Employers Confederation, the Barbados Small Business Association, the Ministry of the Civil Service and the National HIV/AIDS Commission.

Various measures have been employed by the Ministry to inform and sensitise the general public about HIV/AIDS in the workplace. A number of town hall meetings that focussed on the issue have been conducted. The Ministry has also hosted an International Labour Organisation (I.L.O) Tripartite Sub-Regional Meeting on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, as well as a workshop on the Social Partners Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. Televised panel discussions have been organised and the Ministry has collaborated with the National HIV/AIDS Commission to produce a five-part miniseries on HIV/AIDS in the Workplace: Best Practices in Business.

HIV/AIDS education and awareness components are incorporated into the training programmes and workshops hosted by the Ministry’s stakeholders and educational material such as the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS in the workplace has been distributed at various workplaces and schools throughout the island. The Ministry further supports the adoption of workplace policies on HIV/AIDS by public and private entities. These policies, inter alia, should protect a worker’s right to confidentiality, as well as prohibit mandatory testing of a worker for the disease.

Goal 7

Whether developing or industrialised, virtually every country across the world is faced with the challenge of achieving sustainable development, whilst simultaneously implementing measures to protect their environmental landscape. Deforestation, desertification, global warming and pollution continue to have negative impacts on the planet which if left unchecked, could seriously affect the quality of life of future generations. Through legislation, the Ministry of Labour acknowledges its contribution towards the protection of the environment. The Safety and Health Act, 2005 is relevant with reference to the following:

Section 47 states that no gas, fume, dust, vapour or other impurity associated with a work process shall be conducted into the open air.

Section 50 states that effective arrangements shall be made in every workplace for the disposal of waste and effluents arising out of any work processes.

Section 52 states that effective and suitable provision should be made in every workplace for rendering harmless, as far as practicable, all substances, fumes, dust, exhaust gases and other impurities generated in the course of any work process and that are likely to be injurious to health.

Challenges to Be Addressed

Subject to the adherence and commitment by all participating member states, the MDGs can serve to be the cornerstone to meaningful socio-economic development for all the world’s countries. They recognize that in a changing environment, characterized by the removal of barriers to international trade and rapid advancements in information and communications technology, the human element must never be forgotten.

However, the Ministry is cognizant of the fact that for the successful attainment of the goals, several factors must be taken into consideration. For instance:

  1. the collection and analysis of gender based statistics is often hindered by a general lack of appreciation for the importance of timely and reliable data and the role that statistics can play in making objective, informed decisions,
  2. there exists a level of intolerance and insensitivity towards workers infected with HIV, evidenced by the fact that reports still arise about incidences of workplace discrimination against persons living with the disease,
  3. disseminating the information contained in the Health and Safety legislation to all public and private sector organizations in the Barbados landscape and policing the landscape to ensure compliance,
  4. promoting and sensitising workers and employers about the concept of decent work and persuading businesses to adhere to the principles that make up the concept.



The U.N Millennium Development Goals are everybody’s business, from the C.E.O of a billion dollar multinational company, to the smaller farmer in Barbados.

These goals are a global acknowledgement of the fact that the successes from globalization and trade liberalization cannot be measured solely in terms of quantitative measures such as economic growth and trade surpluses. The goals advocate that the real success of the globalization phenomena must transcend into meaningful human development and empowerment. Consequently, the Ministry is supportive of all national policies, programmes and initiatives that are implemented with these goals in mind. However, the Ministry believes that (i) a collaborative approach between government, the private sector and civil society, coupled with (ii) the sensitization of the general public to the importance of the goals are actions that must be pursued. These are two primary factors that every country must consider if they wish to obtain support at the national level for the attainment of the goals.

Published: Wednesday, 21st May, 2008


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