Labour Minister Stephenson King has asserted that Saint Lucia cannot afford to remain oblivious of the history of its workers, otherwise the country may be doomed to repeat the failures that it once experienced.
King said that as a modern technologically advanced society, Saint Lucia must not relive the sad tales of workers toiling during 12 hour work days and even 7 day weeks to earn a basic living.
“The often extremely unsafe working conditions with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks must never be experienced in this modern time, while child labour, exploitation and slavery through strenuous and labourious work must be eliminated in all its forms in our society,” the minister declared in a message to mark Labour Day today.
He noted that Saint Lucia was fortunate as a small independent nation to have enacted the labour act.
King outlined a number of issues that the act addresses.
They include work permits, fundamental principles of employment, terms and conditions of continued employment, occupational safety and health, equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and recruitment for overseas employment.
He said the act, which is perhaps one of the most referenced pieces of legislation in Saint Lucia today, establishes the industrial relations framework for social partnership among workers, employers and workers representatives.
King said the provisions of the act prevail over any other enactments where there may be conflict.
“It serves as the most important legislative framework that is designed to preserve the rights of workers and address the modern day issues of employer-employee relations, employment and decent work for all,” the minister explained.
He observed that in keeping with the intent of the act and in response to today’s challenges, he made a commitment at the National Workers Union (NWU) Congress in June last year to pursue a number of initiatives to ensure that gains won by workers through the trade union movement are safeguarded.
King recalled that among the initiatives mentioned was ensuring that the legal framework providing transparency and fairness to workers and employers is sound, through a review of the labour code.
He also spoke of the establishment a tripartite arrangement to ensure that the gains won by workers through the trade union movement are safeguarded and increase the level of communication among all three parties for the establishment of a stable, conducive industrial relations climate.
In addition, he mentioned undertaking an assessment of the labour department and developing a strategic plan for it with an appropriate structure to execute the plan, as well as developing a labour market information system to facilitate the role of the department of labour as a provider of information on the labour market.
“I am pleased to indicate today that all of those initiatives have been initiated and it is my hope that by the end of this calendar year – with the support of all stakeholders, including the International Labour Organisation, we will have achieved the agenda previously established,” King said.
The minister observed that of symbolic significance to the observance of labour day was the launch of the the National Occupational Safety and Health Policy for Saint Lucia last Friday.
“This means that the government, employers and workers of Saint Lucia are guided by the ILO standards on occupational safety and health that provide essential tools and guidance to establish sound prevention, reporting and inspection practices to provide for maximum safety in the work place,” King stated.