10th ILO Meeting of Caribbean Ministers of Labour: Realizing Decent Work under the 2030 Agenda

This year the Meeting will present an opportunity to have an exchange on the continuing challenge to promote a more inclusive and sustainable growth process with more and better jobs, as well as allow the Ministers to articulate and share their perspectives around the Future of Work, drawing from the national level dialogues that have occurred in the past year.


The 10th ILO Meeting of Caribbean Ministers of Labour has four objectives:
  1. To review progress being made by the countries and the region since the last Meeting of Caribbean Ministers of Labour in 2015 in promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable development with productive employment and decent work  in line with Goal 8 of the SDGs;
  2. To consider the Future of Work Initiative, which is an important part of the ILO’s Centenary Initiative, and to discuss the main challenges and opportunities to advance towards a better Future of Work in the Caribbean
  3. To determine the mix of policies needed to promote growth that is fair, inclusive and sustainable and to explore how the Decent Work Agenda can be effectively integrated in the national articulations of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agendas.
  4. To identify and share good practices that can be replicated in addressing the challenges above, and to assess how the ILO can strengthen its support to member States and the region in developing responses.


The States of the Caribbean have made significant progress in economic and social development in the last 20 years as reflected in the indexes on human development and other economic and social indicators. However, the deceleration in the world economy, the decrease in the prices of primary commodities and other cyclical factors are affecting the progress and prospects in the short to medium term. From a longer term perspective, certain long standing characteristics continue to challenge the region, such as high economic vulnerability and fragility associated with small island states and natural disasters, the lack of economic diversification and productive development and the vulnerabilities associated with external shocks in small open economies.  Both long term vulnerabilities and short term shocks have negatively impacted labour market developments and unemployment in most Caribbean countries, including in particular for young people. 

For this reason Goal 8 of the SDGs, pertaining to the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all is extremely relevant for the region. This Goal, which is fully aligned with the decent work agenda, cannot be achieved without a good balance of productive development, growth, technology, employment, human capital and economic and social policies. In other words, this objective contains a new vision that combines a renewed focus on the engines of growth, (not just any growth but one with three key characteristics: sustained, inclusive and sustainable) with specific attention on the traction that the growth process must  have in labour markets by creating more and better jobs. This combination makes policy coherence and better policy coordination, at both national and regional levels, an imperative. Policy formulation and implementation must achieve a better integration of labour and employment issues with economic, trade, social, education, and environmental policy and vice versa.  Commitment to this approach was reaffirmed in a recent exchange of letters between the ILO Director General and the Secretary General of CARICOM.  Annual meetings of Ministers of Labour to articulate, discuss and pursue the decent work agenda have traditionally been supported on alternate years by CARICOM (through its Ministerial Council COHSOD) and the ILO Office.

In addition, as elsewhere, the world of work in the Caribbean, is undergoing massive change, driven by globalization, climate change, technological innovation, demographic shifts, and a number of economic factors that tend to exacerbate inequality. These changes deeply affect where future jobs will come from, how work is organized, what kind of jobs exist, and how work is governed. Understandably, they generate both fears and hopes. Making the right policy choices will be instrumental for the Caribbean countries to chart the future. And it is worth stressing that a better future of work requires a better future for production, since it is the world of production and the corresponding technologies and productivity in enterprises that sustain the world of work.

In 2019, the ILO will celebrate its 100th anniversary. To respond effectively to the newly emerging “world of work landscape” the ILO launched a Future of Work Initiative as a global process of reflection involving all its member States. The Initiative is intended to help guide the ILO’s efforts towards social justice as the Organization enters its second centenary.

The Ministerial Meeting this year presents a great opportunity to have an exchange on these two closely related challenges: on the one hand, the continuing challenge to promote a more inclusive and sustainable growth process with more and better jobs, and on the other to allow the Ministers of Labour in the Caribbean to articulate and share their perspectives around the Future of Work, drawing from the national level dialogues that have occurred in the past year.1 This will ensure that the forthcoming High Level Global Commission on the Future of Work to be organized as part of the Initiative - and which will publish a report with recommendations - will carry the voice of the Caribbean.

The last COHSOD meeting, planned in October 2016, was cancelled and therefore the most recent meeting of Ministers took place in March 2015 in The Bahamas. The meetings have traditionally produced Conclusions that guide the priorities of the Decent Work Agenda in the Caribbean.

Two themes underpin the agenda.  The first theme seeks to explore how the Decent Work Agenda can be elevated at both national and regional policy level. What is needed to further maximize the role of Ministers of Labour and the social partners in national policy making? The continued economic contraction, 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 shows us clearly how labour, employment and industrial relations simply permeate every section of society. But – both at national and regional level they continue to receive marginal attention and it remains difficult to have truly effective social partnerships to navigate these issues.

The second theme will deal with practical strategies to promote decent work in the Caribbean, especially in light of recent swipes of retrenchments and a feared continued rise of un(der)employment and informality. Topics that will be reviewed include (1) legislation and regulation; (2) how to address the rise of non-standard employment; (3) the important role of active labour market programmes and interventions that help workers’ transition including the role of skills in improving productivity; (4) tools for workplace productivity and the role of good labour management relations.

1 Given the specificity of the Caribbean member States, there have been only limited national initiatives in the region making a Caribbean conference all the more important.