THERE IS some dispute over the origins of the term Boxing Day. But what’s clear is yesterday’s holiday can be traced back to a tradition of privileged people engaging in acts of generosity to members of the working class. In the context of our colonial history, that means Boxing Day probably harks back to a time when masters gifted things to their subjects; when labour was in some way acknowledged even if in the context of an unjust economic construct. Times have changed but the precarious position of workers has not.
This year, Boxing Day was observed at a time of great uncertainty for many workers who have lost their jobs due to cutbacks at state enterprises such as Petrotrin and TSTT. But even before those cuts, economic reality was such that workers have been facing difficulties for some time now in the form of inflexible wages, delayed negotiation of terms and conditions and the general effects of an economic slowdown.
As the new year approaches, we express sympathy with all those who face deeply uncertain futures. We welcome measures outlined by Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus who has expressed sympathy for the plight of those who have lost their jobs due to redundancy, insolvency or receivership and has invited them to take advantage of facilities offered by the Ministry of Labour.
“Visit any one of our offices–Tunapuna, Port of Spain, Central, San Fernando, Point Fortin,” Baptiste-Primus said this month. “They can bring in their resumes. We have efficient and very helpful public officers who would walk them through the various processes.”
We urge stakeholders and members of civil society to also be aware of the nuances of this very difficult situation. What is required now is not political expediency, animosity or steps that will simply perpetuate trauma. What is required now is out of the box thinking.
In this regard, it is to be noted that the last quarter of 2017 saw a decline in the unemployment rate. While that figure is likely to be affected by the latest retrenchments, it is clear that the overall structure of our industrial sector remains disproportionately affected by some of the state’s make-work programmes. This structure has for too long masked a critical vulnerability that encourages complacency when it comes to economic restructuring.
In 2019, we need to continue efforts to diversify the economy. But we also need to focus on creating meaningful employment and empowering workers through the strategic development of skills.
We also need to encourage competition in our economy and breed greater levels of productivity in the hope that this can create an environment in which business thrives, not just survives. Workers should have a say in all of these matters. The old top-down narrative of Boxing Day should actually work both ways.