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News - Decent Work Initiatives and the Global Financial Crisis : The Case of Barbados
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Decent Work Initiatives and the Global Financial Crisis : The Case of Barbados

 

A Short Paper on the topic: DECENT WORK INITIATIVES AND THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: THE CASE OF BARBADOS

This paper seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of the importance of the decent work concept to Barbados and the need to formulate decent-work related initiatives in the wake of the global economic crisis. The effects of the crisis on the Barbados economy are discussed, along with some of the responses employed to tackle its effects. An overview of the size and structure of the labour force is also supplied. The paper then proceeds to outline selected initiatives that are considered to be critical to the attainment of Decent Work in Barbados.

 

Any discussion pertaining to the topic of decent work usually commences with a discussion as to the term’s origins. Essentially, decent work is an all embracing concept that has its genesis in a statement made by Mr. Juan Somavia, the current Director General of the I.L.O. In a report delivered to the International Labour Conference in 1999, he stated that:

“The primary goal of the I.L.O today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”

Decent work has been described as the converging focus of four strategic objectives that are embedded in the I.L.O’s mandate and values[1]. 

 

They include:

 

The promotion of fundamental principles and rights at work, encompassing issues such as collective bargaining, non-discrimination, the abolition of forced labour and child labour

 

Employment creation and encompasses work of all kinds performed in return for some kind of remuneration, including self-employment and employment in the informal sector.

 

Social protection which pertains to ensuring that the workers of a country are entitled to some level of protection, in the event of the sudden loss of income due to (a) injury on the job (b) redundancy (c) sickness, etc.

 

Social dialogue and refers to the practice of workers, employers and Government coming together to engage in discussions of a labour related, economic or social nature.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DECENT WORK CONCEPT

A review of the contents of documents such as the National Strategic Plan 2006-2025 and the Medium Term Development Strategy 2010-2014, reveals that frequent references are made to the moulding of the Barbados labour force into one that is educable, well-trained, flexible, multi-skilled and committed to the concept of life-long learning. Indeed, under section 3.6 of the Medium Term Development Strategy, the document notes that:

“A guiding principle of Barbados’ labour policy is one which seeks to provide decent and productive work for all”

Decent work represents the justifiable attempt to put a human face on a changing and at times hostile work environment where in many instances, it is the worker that pays the ultimate price emanating from the adverse effects of globalization, whether through job loss from the contraction of an industry that has become uncompetitive, or through the movement of a multi-national corporation that has closed its doors and moved to another location in search of higher rates of return.

Consequently, though it is acknowledged that profits are the driving force behind all business entities, the decent work concept acknowledges the fact that some equilibrium must be found between:

(i)      economic and financial matters; and

(ii)     social justice, both at the workplace and in wider society.

The concept recognises that focus must be placed not just on the quantity, but the quality of employment, regardless of the particular occupation in which the worker is engaged.

 

THE EFFECT OF THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS ON THE BARBADOS ECONOMY

In Barbados, the effects of the crisis can be clearly seen through a brief review of some key macro-economic indicators. In its 2010 annual economic review of the economy, the Central Bank of Barbados noted that the economy realised a marginal growth rate of some 0.3%, compared to a decline of 4.7% in 2009. Tourist arrivals to November from the main tourism market, the United Kingdom were down by 6%. The International Business and Financial sector contracted for a second year in a row and the current account deficit widened to 7.4% of GDP, up from 6.6% recorded in 2009. The latest available quarterly unemployment rate was 11.2% as at September 2010, up from 8.1% recorded for the year 2008.

A perusal of documents such as the Financial Statement and Budgetary proposals for 2010 reveals that Government has been acutely aware of the impact of the crisis and has sought to implement a series of measures that have the intention of tackling the worst effects of the crisis. In that document, Barbados has pledged to:

 

  • Make heavy investments in capital projects through both the construction and renovation of government buildings, as well as the acceleration of the national housing programme

 

  • Increase funding to entities like Fund Access to assist them in providing technical assistance to small and micro enterprises

 

  • Maintain employment levels within the public sector and through mechanisms like the Social Partnership, has encouraged the private sector to do likewise, by adopting measures such as reduced work hours

 

  • Aggressively pursue the formulation of additional double taxation treaties in the effort to further develop the International Business and Financial Services Sector

 

Government has also:

  • Developed the Tourism Relief Fund to provide Hotels with working capital to keep their businesses open and

 

  • Ensured the continuation of the billion dollar Four Seasons Construction Project through the offering of a $60 million U.S dollar guarantee to the project developers

 

  • Augmented its efforts to source overseas employment opportunities for its citizens by focusing on the external labour market in Canada and the U.S.A and seeking to enter the U.S H2B programme and exploring the opportunities for Barbadians to work on Cruise lines

 

  • Consulted with the expanded Social Partnership group in formulating the Medium Term Development Strategy and Medium Term Fiscal Strategy. These are key planning documents that not only seek to provide co-ordinated responses to the crisis, but they also seek to chart a clear developmental path for the period after the crisis has abated. 

 

Barbados acknowledges that the crisis can be particularly impactful on the most vulnerable groups in society such as the youth and low-skilled workers. To this end, Government has:

1.    Allocated ten million dollars for the development of the Unemployment Benefits Retraining Fund, an initiative which has the intention of equipping unemployment benefit recipients with the training they need to upgrade their skill sets and enhance their chance of finding decent and productive employment. 

 

2.    Planned for the establishment of a Social Safety Net Mechanism to offer a comprehensive array of social services to vulnerable groups of persons. Through this initiative, persons would not only have access to welfare but could be provided with the opportunity to obtain a skill through referrals to training institutions like the training board.

 

BARBADOS’ LABOUR FORCE AT A GLANCE

Decent work initiatives that are well planned and organised can serve to empower a labour force and enhance that labour force’s contribution to national development.

As at 2009, the adult population was some recorded at approximately 213,000 persons. The total labour force size was some 142,700 persons, of which some 128,500 persons were recorded as employed. The unemployment rate (as at 2009) was 10%.

In reviewing the employed labour force by major industrial division (i.e, whether a person is employed in tourism, manufacturing, construction etc.) it is noted that persons employed in general services constitute the largest segment of the employed labour force (21.9%) closely followed by Government services (20.7%)

With respect to the primary foreign exchange earnings sectors, the Tourism sector constituted some 10.3% of the employed workforce, whilst other sectors like the Financial Services and Manufacturing constituted some 8.8% and 5.8% respectively of the workforce.

The categories of Sugar and “Other Agriculture” collectively accounted for around 3% of the employed workforce. Additional information as to the breakdown can be found at Table 1 below.

 

 

 

 

TABLE 1

Employment By Industry Major Industrial Division:  Annual 2009 Statistics


 

 




INDUSTRY

Both Sexes (000)

Percentage Make-up


Sugar

0.3

0.3


Other Agriculture & Fishing

3.7

2.9


Manufacturing

7.4

5.8


Elec. Gas & Water

1.7

1.3


Quarrying & Const-n

11.5

9.0


Wholesale & Retail trade

18.8

14.6


Tourism

13.3

10.3


Transport & Comm

5.4

4.2


Finance, Insurance & Busn services

11.3

8.8


General services

28.1

21.9


Government services

26.6

20.7


Not stated

0.3

0.2


Total

128.5

100.0

 

Source: Statistical Service Labour Force Survey



 

The composition of the Barbados labour force can also be analysed by major occupational categories such as the level of Professionals, Managerial level positions, Skilled Craftsmen and Elementary Occupations. Table 2 below provides some useful insights into how some of these categories have either grown or declined over a period of ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE 2

EMPLOYMENT BY MAJOR OCCUPATIONAL DIVISION 1999 to 2009 (000)

OCCUPATIONAL DIVISION

1999

2009

Difference (%)

Managerial & Senior Officials

6.8

12.6

85.5

Professionals

10.2

15.2

49.4

Technicians & Assoc Profess.

8.5

13.1

54.4

Clerks

15.2

16.9

11.3

Service/Shop Workers

21.3

22

3.3

Skilled Agricultural Workers

2.7

3.9

42.1

Craft and Related Workers

19.6

16.1

-17.9

Plant & Machine Operators

9.3

7.4

-20.5

Elementary Occupations

30.7

21.1

-31.2

Not Stated

0.9

0.2

-78.3

TOTAL

125.2

128.5

2.7





Statistical Labour Force Survey




 

From reviewing table 2, some positive evidence of the diversification of the Barbados labour force over a ten year period is provided. For instance, there is the marked decline of workers in elementary occupational groups, both in absolute amounts and as a percentage of the employed labour force. In terms of the percentage, this has moved from just under 25% in 1999, to around 16% in 2009. Conversely, In the case of persons working in technical occupations, the percentage component has risen from 7% in 1999 to 10% in 2009.

 

 

 

 

THE NEED FOR DECENT WORK INITIATIVES

Any country that is desirous of developing its labour force must be prepared to ask of itself certain key questions. Countries must be clear as to the characteristics they would desire their labour forces to possess and must ensure that the pool of talent and potential makes the maximum possible contribution to national development.  Therefore, countries must be prepared to make heavy investments in workforce development. The harsh reality is that the modern, progressive 21st century economy will require an increasingly diverse set of skills, especially at the professional and technical categories of occupational groupings.

That’s where the need for decent work initiatives come in.  If successfully implemented, decent work initiatives can make an indelible contribution to the moulding of a labour force that is educable, well-trained, flexible, multi-skilled and committed to the concept of life-long learning.

In turn, such a labour force can help to improve a country’s levels of productivity and competitiveness, two inescapable factors that Barbados must strive to attain, if Barbados is to take its place as a vibrant player in the international economy. Thus, decent work is a key concept that cannot be discounted if Barbados is to attain meaningful economic development.

 

DECENT WORK INITIATIVES IN BARBADOS

Through collaborations with the International Labour Office, it may be argued that many of the most crucial and pressing decent work initiatives that need to be implemented by Barbados have already been identified by major labour stakeholders such as the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (C.T.U.S.A.B), the Barbados Private Sector Association and the Ministry of Labour.

The initiatives were identified and outlined through a comprehensive exercise held in 2010 and incorporated into the preparation of the Barbados Decent Work Country Programme. In conjunction with the I.L.O. these programmes have been formulated by other countries in the Caribbean like Bahamas, Belize, St. Lucia, Grenada and other OECS countries. A document has been drafted, along with a matrix that outlines the priorities.

One supreme advantage is that the tripartite approach was utilised, as opposed to the situation where one party was given exclusive responsibility for charting a future path for labour.

The initiatives include the following:

 

Modernisation of the National Employment Bureau

By way of information, the National Employment Bureau is the segment of the Labour Ministry that has the responsibility of identifying local and overseas employment opportunities for Barbadians. In addition, it provides guidance and counseling services to job seekers in order to (i) strengthen their core skills sets and (ii) enhance their ability to compete for jobs.

From these responsibilities, one can see that the Bureau, if it is well resourced, can play a key role in efforts to develop a labour force where workers can compete effectively in labour markets locally, regionally and beyond. Therefore, it is vital that the Bureau be placed at the nucleus of any attempt by Government to facilitate labour force development.

It is critical that the Bureau exude an aura of professionalism to all visitors, particularly first-timers. This is however an expectation that the Bureau has been challenged to achieve at its current venue. Under the Decent Work Country Programme, Government will ensure that the physical location and environment in which the N.E.B conducts its daily operations is enhanced and at the time of writing, consideration is being given to the removal of the Bureau from its current location.

Additionally, there must be a different approach to the marketing of the services of the National Employment Bureau. Once the Bureau is strengthened, employers of high-skilled employees in areas such as accounting, engineering, architecture, information technology, insurance, banking and financial services should be targeted and encouraged to post their vacancies with the Bureau. However, the utilisation of the Bureau’s services will only occur if those employers have the necessary confidence in the NEB to supply them with the type of employee they require. 

Likewise, in tandem with an approach to employers, would be a similar approach to students of major tertiary institutions.  Annual awareness exercises need to be held at these institutions and at the end of such exercises, students should be encouraged to register with the Bureau.

Once upgraded, the Bureau will enhance its position as a primary source of labour market information for policy and decision makers, supplying them with periodic statistics on jobs requested by occupation, vacancies received from employers by occupation, placements made by occupation, usage of the resource centre, job seekers counseled, etc.



Expansion of the Range and Quality of Labour Market Information

One of the biggest obstacles to the attainment of decent work is the dissemination of accurate and timely labour market information to the public. Over time, officials at the Ministry of Labour have observed a marked increase in demand for specific sets of labour market information.  These requests may range from routine information like the unemployment rate, to the percentages of workers employed in major industrial sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and construction. However, Ministry officials have noted that the following have emerged as the most frequent sets of labour market information currently being demanded by the general public.

 

 

 

These include:

 

  • quantitative employment projections by industry,

 

  • wage indices,

 

  • updated occupational classification systems and the

 

  • identification of future occupational areas that are likely to be in demand

 

 

To remain relevant to changing needs, it is imperative that all attempts be made to satisfy the changing demands of information users. The above-mentioned categories of information, as well as statistics on labour supply are critical to assessing future trends and developments impacting on the labour force and planning for the further development of the Human Resource. 

 

Promoting Competency Based Education through the embracing of National and Caribbean Vocational Qualifications

As Barbados becomes an increasingly critical player in the regional and international environment, it will ultimately be a necessity that workers seek to equip themselves with the requisite certification in a climate that grows more competitive by the day.

This is a requirement that will be particularly impactful on the skilled craftsmen in the labour force that are experienced and competent, but that do not have any documentation from a recognised training institution that could verify their skills sets.

In full recognition of the fact that skills development increases the employability of workers, the Ministry of Labour, through its TVET Council, will work to ensure that both CVQs and NVQs are further developed and expanded and that the public is sensitized as to the importance of certification. The CVQs and NVQs are developed in consultation with employers in industry to ensure that they are relevant and are providing the worker with skills sets the employer needs for his operation. The ultimate goal is to ensure that workers who may have acquired their skills sets through apprenticeships and on-the-job training, will be afforded every opportunity to demonstrate their competencies to assessors of recognized accreditation bodies.

 

Improving the Image of TVET in Barbados, particularly amongst the Youth

Improving TVET’s image represents one of the most serious challenges to future workforce development in Barbados. If it is to be accepted that diversifying skills sets in Barbados is a desired action, this is one crucial message that needs to be spread, from as early as the secondary school level. Unfortunately in Barbados, especially amongst the youth, the general stereotype of TVET-type occupations is hard physical toil in the sun for minimal pay.  To quell this myth, the youth must first be sensitized to the fact that they can indeed make a reasonable living from a TVET occupation if they are willing to apply themselves and upgrade their skills sets at one of the institutions offering training programmes in TVET areas. Training institutions themselves should also be prepared to physically go on recruitment drives within various communities throughout Barbados and inform persons as to the skills sets they can acquire if they take up training opportunities. This is an action that has already been used by the Vocational Training Board.

A greater commitment to TVET training is an issue that Barbados cannot afford to ignore. Any basic research conducted of the established apprenticeship systems of developed nations such as Canada, the U.S, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and other countries throughout Europe will reveal one hard, irrefutable fact. A heavy premium is placed on equipping their labour forces with TVET skills and all of these countries are willing to invest substantial amounts of funding every year to community colleges, skills centres and the like, to train persons in TVET areas.

Government will upgrade the capacity of its major training institutions to deliver quality TVET programmes to the public and will seek to continuously communicate with industry to ensure that all programmes remain relevant to the workplace.  Moreover, through the use of various public relations activities Government will seek to advertise the programmes offered by the Board through means such as the continuation of its outreach programme and the use of the print media.

 

 

Developing a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Strengthen the capacity of Local Entrepreneurs to be competitive in existing and new economic activities

New ways of addressing the perennial problems confronting small businesses must be identified. If adequately facilitated, entrepreneurship can easily become the key plank in government’s plan to facilitate meaningful employment creation on a significant scale and successful entrepreneurs can in turn, become employers themselves as their business develops and expands. The promotion of entrepreneurship is an action that has received the attention of the I.L.O and that organisation will provide support to relevant institutions to undertake research and identify new areas of economic activity that can be exploited if the requisite financial resources and technical assistance are provided to potential entrepreneurs. The ILO will also assist in conducting a comprehensive study that will identify the policies which are necessary for sustainable enterprise development.

 

Capacity Building of Major Labour Stakeholders

The receipt of assistance, whether through funding, technical assistance, Information Technology upgrades, staff training or otherwise, is critical for resource-challenged institutions to enhance their efficiency and ability to satisfy the needs of their clientele. Under the I.L.O Decent Work Country Programme virtually every single stakeholder in labour identified the need for some type of institutional strengthening.

Funding opportunities that may present themselves through international entities must be sought and exploited. In turn however, requesting institutions must formulate clear visions of the labour related obstacles they face and should be willing to articulate concrete plans and strategies that would outline how obstacles would be overcome.  Such actions will instill the confidence in the fund provider that their resources would be effectively channeled to the addressing of obstacles and that success could be measured against a clearly defined set of measurable indicators and benchmarks.

 

 

Recognition of the Need for Updated and Relevant Labour Legislation

Labour Laws that are relevant to the needs of a constantly changing Industrial Relations Climate and that protect the rights of the worker, as well as the employer are critical for the daily functioning of a modern day workforce. Such laws serve to set a standard for operating in the workplace and represent the mechanism that either party can turn to in the event that they believe that their rights have been compromised.

In abiding by the principle of tripartism, the Labour Ministry has sought to ensure that the interests of the Social Partners have been represented in the drafting and updating of a number of laws.

One of these pieces of legislation is the Employment Rights Bill which, when passed, will convey a number of rights on both the employer and worker. These rights include:

 

  • The right at commencement of employment to a written statement of particulars

 

 

  • The right to a written, itemized pay statement

 

  • The right to be consulted before being laid off or placed on short time.

 

  • The right, if dismissed for redundancy, to priority in re-hiring in certain circumstances.

 

  • The right not to be unfairly dismissed.

 

In the case of the employment rights bill, consultations have been undertaken with the Social Partners and a draft bill has been prepared by the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. Other pieces of legislation that will be introduced to Parliament include the Amendments to the Shops Act and Holidays with Pay. 

 

Conclusion

The implementation of actions necessary to ensure the successful attainment of the identified decent work initiatives, especially against the backdrop of a recessionary environment where financial resources are limited, will require the collaborative efforts of all of the major social partners. But, once such initiatives are attained, there are a number of benefits that can be accrued. For instance, decent work can facilitate a more stable industrial relations climate and can lead to a more productive worker. From a social perspective, decent work can assist in the goal of poverty alleviation, through the provision of a sufficient wage to meet basic living costs.

 

The Ministry of Labour readily acknowledges the above-mentioned benefits and will ensure that every effort is made to successfully achieve the actions outlined under the Barbados Decent Work Country Programme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Website of the International Labour Organisation: www.ilo.org.


Published: Monday, 7th March, 2011





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3rd Floor West, Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St. Michael, Barbados | Tel: (246) 535-1400 | Fax: (246) 535-1573 | E-Mail: mol@labour.gov.bb