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Flexible work week plan on fast track

The Jamaica Gleaner, 18 July 2000

THREE MINISTERS of Government are expected to attend an urgent meeting of the tripartite industrial relations body, the Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), when it discusses the issue of the proposed flexible work week on July 27.

In addition to Minister of Labour and Social Security, Donald Buchanan, who chairs the LAC, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Technology, Phillip Paulwell, and Minister of Foreign Trade, Anthony Hylton, are also expected to attend next Thursday's meeting at Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston.

They are also scheduled to discuss the setting up of a National Tripartite Productivity Centre, which the trade unions insist is vital to make Jamaican workers competitive with their colleagues in the region. The LAC is comprised of representatives of the Government, the trade unions and the Jamaica Employers Federation.

The meeting is the latest in a number of urgent moves being made by the Government to seek consensus between labour and employers on issues essential to accessing several international trading opportunities, including the recently-expanded CBI apparel trade bill and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) scheduled to come on stream by 2005.

The urgent need for Jamaica's labour sector to meet these requirements was impressed upon the unions by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson when he met them in June at Jamaica House. Mr. Patterson warned that the Government was not prepared to wait indefinitely for them to reach a consensus on the matters.

Mr. Patterson also raised the issue at the recent Heads of Government Summit in Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, when he told a press briefing that not enough attention was being paid to the conditions for CBU and FTAA eligibility and competition in the region.

Mr. Patterson expressed disappointment that after years of discussions, the local trade unions and the employers were unable to reach consensus on issues like the flexible work week, definition of a "worker" and "the right to strike".

Minister of State for Industry, Commerce and Technology, Colin Campbell, told the House of Representatives in June, that the Government wanted to capitalise as much as possible on these trading benefits, but referred the House to a Kurt Salmon study done in 1997, which reported that Jamaica was not competitive enough to maximise those benefits.

The report said, among other things, that Jamaica had the lowest number of available working hours among the competing countries, the highest overhead costs as well as high cost of capital and rental rates. While the LAC is dealing with the flexible work week, the issues of the definition of worker and the right to strike are to be dealt with under amendments to the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) which has been lingering on the table of Parliament for several years now.