THE time has come for a new relationship between workers and employers. Adversarial stances adopted by both sides are no longer relevant or productive in a world that has been changed forever by the covid19 pandemic.
President Paula-Mae Weekes expressed this opinion in her Labour Day message to the nation. Labour Day celebrations on Sunday will see a return of the traditional rally of trade unions and other activities in Fyzabad which were either scrapped or curtailed over the last two years because of the pandemic.
Weekes observed this year's Labour Day celebrations are a moment for optimism and concern. The former as the worst of the pandemic appears to be in world's rear-view mirror, organisations are resuming normal operations and citizens are resuming daily activities. The latter arises from continued external shocks to the economy as the world continues to deal with covid19 and people locally and globally either being retrenched or having reduced income streams.
Additional pressure is created by ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine which is causing prices of essential goods, including fuel and food, to skyrocket. This disproportionately affects the working class.
All of these events and resulting challenges will affect the world for years to come.
Weekes said, "Amid these predicaments, thousands of employees, some of whom have been pushed to their limit over the past two years, still await the outcome of a tedious bargaining process."
While adversarial processes used by trade unions and employers in wage negotiations may have served them well a long time ago, this is not the case in a new ever-changed environment.
"Labour leaders must usher themselves into the 21st century, representing their workers with skill and strategies appropriate to the current realities confronting our nation."
Weekes said labour marches and fiery speeches by labour leader have their place. But they cannot be the only arrows in the labour movement's quiver.
She added, "Employers too, must operate differently, coming to the table at regular and predictable intervals, being empathetic to the concerns and conditions of their employees, even if tethered to their bottom line."
While there will be tensions in any bargaining process, Weekes said, "The objectives of employers and labour are not wholly incompatible."
Employers and unions must each demonstrate goodwill, patience, insight and a creative spirit, when they sit at the negotiating table.
Weekes was confident that if this happens, acceptable outcomes can be achieved for both sides.
Unions are the bridge between employer and employee. Weekes accepted the rights of unions to demand safe working environments, fair wages and job security for the workers they represent.
But she said unions "would do well to also ensure that members understand the harsh economic realities of the labour market and remain informed, upskilled and equipped to keep pace with, and even run ahead, of the future of work."
Employers must re-imagine and re-engineer the way they approach labour relations, balancing the need for profit and productivity with workers' fundamental rights to enjoy a decent quality of life and safe working conditions.
Weekes observed, "Bare minimum cannot be the guiding measure. The goal should be to arrive at a win-win situation guided by the philosophy that a workplace and working conditions should be conducive to optimum production."
Cooperation, compromise, flexibility and innovation must be the order of the day.
She concluded, "Employers and labour representatives need to acknowledge and embrace the imperative of unity and join forces to produce a modern, adaptable and secure work environment that guarantees our economic recovery in the shortest possible time."