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Women victims of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment at work says world union body

ICFTU Online..., 165/980727/DD, 27 July 1998

Brussels. July 27 1998 - (ICFTU OnLine): The Jamaican government needs to take measures to overcome sexual discrimination and harassment at work says the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in a report complementing the WTO's trade policy review.

Women, often single mothers, are being used as cheap labour in banana and sugar cane production (both export crops) as well as stone breaking, finds the report. There also problems of sexual harassment at work. In addition, in the education sector, married men continue to receive a "marriage allowance", while married women are excluded. Government failure to deal with discrimination has been brought up before the ILO Committee of Experts on several occasions.

The more than 18,000 workers in Jamaica's export processing zones (free zones) also have difficulties. Although in theory the country's labour laws are meant to be applied, there are no unions nor collective bargaining in the zones, probably because of opposition from multinational companies, and company-controlled "workers' councils" handle individual grievances, while the management determines wages and conditions.

Outside the zones, workers in "essential services" are prohibited from striking, and the government can designate certain areas as "essential" in order to end strikes, as it did in the case of strikes in bauxite mining and education, where compulsory arbitration was imposed to end strikes. Again this has led to criticism from the ILO which has stated on many occasions that Jamaica's definition of "essential services" is too broad.

In other areas Jamaica's core labour standards are generally respected, and Jamaica has ratified six out of the seven ILO Conventions on core standards, although the presence of many children street sellers shows that the government should ratify Convention 138, on the Minimum Age of Employment as a matter of urgency, and bring its own legislation into line with this. International standards stipulate 14 as the minimum age of employment, while Jamaica's own legislation sets the age at 12.

Consistent with the commitments which Jamaica made at the WTO meetings in Singapore (1996) and Geneva (1998) it should report to the ILO on its legislative changes and policy measures in order to comply fully with internationally recognised core labour standards. This report on Jamaica's respect for trade union rights is one of a series being undertaken by the ICFTU. It was prepared with the assistance of the ICFTU's affiliate: the Jamaican Confederation of Trade Unions.

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