Message from Claudia Coenjaerts, Director, ILO DWT and Office for the Caribbean

2016 in review with highlights of expected continued collaboration with constituents in the Caribbean region.

News | 23 January 2017
As 2017 sets in we look forward to another year of close partnership with our Caribbean Constituents, not just to promote the Decent Work Agenda, but to deliver it.  When in 2015 world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, they also resolved to “create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities”.  Consistent, coherent and concrete tripartite input in the national level articulations of the 2030 Agenda will be fundamental.  It will be the only way to ascertain the important place of the Decent Work Agenda in delivering Sustainable Development.

Globally 2016 has been a turbulent year, with heightened political tensions and overall uncertainty. Even more worrisome are the palpable divisions within our societies, not in the least driven by the obvious and continued rise of inequality and decent work deficits. Many of our institutions and public actors find themselves in a crisis of confidence.

The economic contraction that also characterises this region, the many closures of businesses, the inability to agree on wage adjustments or other collective bargaining agreements, the difficulties for young people to find the jobs they seek and the overall climate of mistrust between employers and workers send us a message that the world of work will be rocky.  Clearly, coping constructively with these transitions will only be possible if there is good policy and strong implementation. Active labour market policies and programmes are more important than ever, yet few countries in the region are equipped to launch them.  The increase in non-standard employment – often referred to as some form of contract labour – calls for sound, modern, balanced and well enforced employment protective legislation. This is clearly at the forefront of many Governments in the region, including the elaboration of comprehensive approaches to occupational safety and health.

Things are not without hope, but policy choices will matter more than ever. To successfully navigate the complex and difficult future ahead of us our Caribbean Governments will benefit enormously from consciously infiltrating the principle of social dialogue in all policy making including areas that are not purely “labour issues”. Barbados, Grenada, the Bahamas, Jamaica and now also Trinidad and Tobago have mechanisms to make that happen. But “building” that paradigm that puts “sustainability” before “individual interests” has to be a continued effort.

We have also witnessed the importance of strong institutions to navigate the labour market – including labour legislation, enforcement, collective bargaining, FOA, dispute settlement. Reviewing the media of the past year, this has certainly been a central theme. Without trust in the functioning of these mechanisms industrial relations easily take a bad turn, and we know that this impacts badly on already challenged economies and markets.

Another area that needs to be at the forefront of the Caribbean Constituents’ minds as we move into 2017 is the greening of the economies. With the Climate Change Agreements made in Paris followed by COP22 this past November in Marrakesh, the Caribbean is now to develop its own response to climate change.  There are many labour market implications and impacts can be both, negative or positive.  Here too policy choices matter as research increasingly indicates. For several governments – two examples are Barbados and Guyana – climate change and greening have become a central policy theme.  Social partners have a critical role in steering these transitions and can use the ILO “Guidelines for a just transition toward environmental sustainable economies and societies for all”.  

This by no means reflects all the elements of the Decent Work Agenda at the forefront in the year to come. But it clearly shows that we have important work to do. As a region composed of small island development states, we need to come together.  In an exchange of letters between the ILO Director-General and the Secretary General of CARICOM in July last year, Mr Ryder urged the Secretary General to consider including Decent Work issues in the Agenda of future Heads of Government session.  Our upcoming Meeting of Ministers of Labour during 22-24 February, 2017 in Kingston Jamaica will be a great opportunity to further shape that path forward. I am personally honoured and delighted to serve you, on behalf of the ILO, in pursuing our joint mission of delivering decent work for the women and men of the Caribbean.