Joseph Hamilton, Minister of Labour for Guyana (left), and Stephenson King, Minister of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour for Saint Lucia (right), joined the ILO Caribbean Resilience Symposium on 18th May 2021, to discuss how their governments are working with employers’ organizations and trade unions, to sustainably recover from the COVID-19 crisis. (Image courtesy ILO)

Labour experts in the region are calling for more investments in the digital, blue and green economies, as well as skills development, and reducing inequalities in populations.  These key elements, they say, are critical to improving and Caribbean resilience and reducing the region’s recovery time to crises.

Government Ministers, employers’ and workers’ representatives, as well as academic researchers and development agencies, currently are gathered for the International Labour Organization (ILO) Caribbean Resilience Symposium—a three-day virtual conference to discuss policies and actions to improve how job markets can build long term resilience to ongoing climate risks and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual Symposium, which is being held from 18 to 20 May 2021, is being hosted by the ILO Caribbean Office.  Participants are discussing solutions for minimizing disruptions to employment and quickly regaining productivity.

“The socio-economic effects of COVID-19 on Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) has shown us that jobs and livelihoods, and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 8—Decent Work and Economic Growth—are key for crisis recovery,” explained Dennis Zulu, Director of the ILO Caribbean Office, as he welcomed participants to the event.

Vinicius Pinheiro, Regional Director of the ILO Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, commended Caribbean countries for responding to the employment impacts of the crisis—particularly through social dialogue.

“Caribbean employers’ and workers’ organizations have engaged with Ministries of Labour and Ministries of Health to address challenges and craft their responses to protect workers and keep businesses afloat,” he highlighted.

“At the policy level, we have seen tripartite partners involved in the discussions on stimulus and packages, not only at the macro level, but also at the industry level, so the region has a lot to showcase to the world,” he observed.

The Regional Director also emphasized innovative ways in which the region can successfully adapt to the new normal.

“The Caribbean has a big role to play in engaging in global labour markets via the digital economy. And of course, there is a need to invest in the green economy and the blue economy in this transition to a new reality focused on a human-centred approach,” he explained.  

The Ministers of Labour for Guyana and Saint Lucia also attended the event to discuss how their governments are working to help employers and workers to sustainably recover from the crisis.

“We are in the process of re-establishing the Ministry of Labour in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana,” said the Honourable Joseph Hamilton, Minister of Labour for Guyana. “The three pillars we have set are: capacity building and the need for training and retraining of workers; human development; and workers’ welfare.”

“We cannot discuss decent work without discussing access to decent housing, healthcare and education. The worker must be healthy and well and satisfied socially to perform in the sphere of work,” Minister Hamilton underscored.

And his Saint Lucian counterpart, the Honourable Stephenson King, Minister of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour, says his country will assertively tackle unemployment.

“As part of the national strategy for recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and a commitment to a longer-term resilience, Saint Lucia has accepted the ILO’s recommendation to implement a national Public Employment Programme (PEP).  This is geared to the generation and institutionalization of decent, productive and sustainable jobs, while at the same time presenting a tool to complement private sector employment creation, and offer a policy instrument to tackle the problem of unemployment in our society,” Minister King explained. 

Image courtesy ILO.

Leaders from regional employers’ and workers’ organizations also spoke at the event and underscored that the pandemic and other crises are opportunities to reduce vulnerabilities that have long plagued Caribbean labour markets, in order to achieve a healthy and resilient future of work.

“Building resilience and diversification of economies have been ongoing priorities for the Caribbean.  The region has long known and experienced its vulnerabilities to external shocks, but we did not anticipate the nature and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Wayne Chen, President of the Caribbean Employers’ Confederation.

He added: “The crisis also has provided us with a chance to address and adapt to future of work issues such as prioritizing social dialogue by implementing task forces inclusive of workers, employers and civil society. It also has accelerated the digital economy, as we realize the opportunities that come with working and learning online.”

Meanwhile, President of the Caribbean Congress of Labour Andre Lewis, told participants that now is the time to tackle the region’s most fundamental, societal issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the fore the reality of existing inequalities in quite a number of our societies,” he pointed out.  

“If at the end of the pandemic, or as we get to be able to manage living with the pandemic, we do not make fundamental and radical changes to the structure of our societies, then we would have wasted the sacrifices that have been made—in terms of loss of lives in the region and among the diaspora, and the psycho-social impacts that the pandemic has had on us,” Andre Lewis warned.

The event also featured closed sessions for workers’ and employers’ organizations, as well as a closed Ministers of Labour Roundtable, chaired by the Honourable Colin E. Jordan, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations for Barbados.

Topics that will be discussed over the course of the three-day event include skills development; social protection; occupational safety and health (OSH); policy frameworks; labour market information; employment services; public employment programmes; social dialogue; just transition to environmentally sustainable economies; and enterprise development.

To watch plenary sessions of the Symposium, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/c/ILO/videos.