(PRESS RELEASE) – Fellow Saint Lucians, workers, thank you for welcoming me into your hearts and homes. Today I address you as your Labour Minister, on the occasion of LABOUR DAY, amidst the chaos, and uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labour Day 2020 may go down in history as one of the most depressing and stressful worker’s day throughout the World. COVID has destabilised work, rendered workers redundant, suspended jobs and changed our lives, changing the World of work; as we knew it, forever.
As we try to grapple with the shocking changes confronting us as workers in this Global Pandemic, we must endeavour appreciate our potential fortunes in the “New World of Work”. This is truly a period of uncertainty and anxiety, but it’s also a period of opportunity through creativity in adversity. It’s a period to strengthen our resolve and build our resilience by upholding the eighth Sustainable Development Goal of Decent Work and Economic Growth.
Covid-19 has brought into sharp perspective our vulnerabilities, our shortcomings and our weaknesses, yet challenges us to discover the numerous opportunities presented. As a people, we are compelled to do some introspection into our daily lives – our culture, behaviour and practices, as we adjust to “the new normal”. Against the background of shutdowns and curfew, we are compelled to slow down and contemplate our current status and destination in life, our marketability, creativity, skills set, and the prospects of our once perceived secured jobs.
Many among us work simply as a means to an end – a bread and butter formality. While this may be a basic need, can we afford to continue in this vein, rather than look towards our personal growth and development and refocus on more fundamental human development ideals, particularly the relevant Sustainable Development Goal?
In accordance with the old adage: “necessity is the mother of invention”, we have seen the exposition of the creativity of our people as they grapple with the realities of Covid-19. Our producers, have all ventured beyond the traditional in-store, on-street and sidewalk vending, to the use of technology to market their products to consumers. A plethora of masks of varied styles and colours; some to suit every outfit and every occasion, punctuate our streets, rapidly gaining popularity among Saint Lucians. Farmers have been also promoting their produce on-line, even offering delivery services to customers in the comfort of their homes. This in itself is an endorsement of the recent statement articulated by the Minister for Commerce to “Buy local!” Buy Lucian!”
Working from home; a new norm, has been well received but it has taught us that productivity at home is equally important and valuable as in the work environment. Technology, has easily presented creative ideas and solutions at our fingertips, on electronic devices, but it calls for lifestyle adjustments, and in some cases, has placed some stress on households, especially female breadwinners who must now multitask work, childcare and home-schooling.
Notwithstanding these new modalities, we must be very cognisant of the need to ensure balance, to maintain good mental and physical health, as the reality and stress associated with the unknown and evolving dynamics of Covid-19, are ever present.
COVID; the invisible enemy, has brought unprecedented challenges, which are not only being faced by policy makers, but also employers and employees. Make no mistake however; whether employer or employee, we are all breadwinners and we all have families who are relying on us to “bring home the bread”. We are all in this together, corralled into the same ship, facing and battling the same turbulent seas – the current, surf and surge, without discrimination, regardless our social and economic classification.
We are known to be a strong and resilient people and we have always risen above the tide, by helping each another. This tradition has always been extended in the past, to our fellow citizens and Caribbean brothers, in times of disaster. Let us remain “united in strength and focused on mission”.
Since COVID-19, the Department of Labour has intensified its dialogue with stakeholders; employer organisations and employee representatives, to ensure timely responses to all concerns, utilizing the medium of social dialogue during this crisis. This approach is mutually beneficial to all parties, as in the final analysis, it is the unseen enemy which is the common enemy.
This period of adversity; a time of unemployment, lay-off, down-time, shut down and recovery, should be utilised effectively to reflect and make sensible decisions that will safeguard our re-emergence.
Out of necessity, worker creativity must be recognised, harnessed and revealed, while employer economic potential, capacity and ability must be harmonized and underpinned to avert any collapse in the World of work. Here in Saint Lucia COVID-19 is forcing us to look inwardly, find solutions, harness our potential and seize the opportunities to help steer the ship of State back on its course towards economic recovery, industrial peace and social harmony.
Notwithstanding the adversity, yet the opportunities being presented and the adjustments necessary for recovery, it is incumbent on our part to remain steadfast in the fulfilment of our international obligations to the aspirations of people in their working lives. To achieve this, we must continue to promote the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda – employment creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue. These together with gender equality are integrally enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, of which Goal no. 8 calls for the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment
To achieve these goals by 2030 we must integrate resilience within our labour force, by capitalizing on our creativity, effecting innovation, maximizing opportunities and re-tooling and up-skilling our workforce to re-engage in a restructured ethical working environment or an entirely new discipline of work. Building resilience is inevitable at this time, as there is much uncertainty in the prospects of an early recovery within the economy. Hopefully re-tooling and up-skilling, will present industry workers with possible fresh opportunities.
In response to this vista of a new environment for work, with potentially new opportunities to excite the imagination and creativity of our workers, employers and our people, the Department of Labour will soon launch a refocused work agenda towards reflecting the following:
-Formalization of social dialogue agenda,
-completion of the ongoing review of the Labour Act and regulations,
-development of a “Workers social and economic exogenous shock System”, to withstand occurrences such as COVID-19;
-overhauling the Labour Market Information System (LMIS),
-Building capacity in the Occupational Health and Safety Unit, and
-The restructuring and rebranding of the Labour Department.
In closing and in retrospective observance, let me reflect briefly on this year’s theme for “World Day for Safety and Health at Work”, which was observed on Tuesday 28th April. The theme “Stop the Pandemic: Safety and Health at Work Can Save Lives” encourages us to save the lives of our Saint Lucian Workers by giving them the personal protection they deserve, by keeping their stress levels low and their immune systems high, by letting them work and produce from home wherever possible, by allowing them flexible arrangements to ensure adequate physical distancing, and by NOT sending them into harm’s way to risk their physical and mental health and their lives.
Amidst the depressing difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic, I pray God’s mercy and blessings for Labour Day 2020, upon all workers, employers and families who have been negatively impacted by the crisis, particularly our frontline workers.
You have my assurance as Minister; that the Labour Department will continue to work closely with all of you, to help nurse your businesses and jobs back to economic health. Together we will overcome, together we will succeed, together let’s have a peaceful, restful and satisfying Labour Day, despite the times we are in.
I thank you