Basseterre, St. Kitts, February 19, 2017 (SKNIS): Premier of Nevis, Senior Minister and Minister of Labour, the Honourable Vance Amory, has outlined nine priority areas of projected activity for the Ministry and Department of Labour “to promote opportunities for workers to obtain decent and productive employment in conditions of freedom, equality, security and human dignity” in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Speaking in Parliament on February 16, on the second anniversary of the Government of National Unity, Premier Amory said that these nine priority areas are to “enhance the deliverables” of the performance of the Ministry and Department of Labour in 2017 “ensuring decent work prevails in St. Kitts and Nevis.”
The nine priority areas are Institutional Strengthening of the Department and the Building of the Capacity of the Staff at the Department of Labour; The Update of Labour Legislation; Enhance the Labour Inspectorate; Education of the Public; Enhance the Employment Mechanisms and the Statistics Unit in the Ministry and Department of Labour; Enhance Social Protection System; Industrial Relations; International Relations; and to Make Tripartism and Social Dialogue Central Themes for the Creation of Public Policies in Labour.
Senior Minister Amory said that the institutional strengthening of the department and the building of the capacity of the staff is designed “to have the staff effectively carry out the labour administrative mandate in making way for the reality of decent work for all.” He said that to strengthen and build the capacity of the officers within the Department of Labour, the department continues to have weekly internal staff development sessions on Wednesday’s from 2:00 to 4:00 pm with training facilitated by the acting labour commissioner, senior staff members and key stakeholders in the world of work. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also committed to provide additional training, he said.
With respect to enhancing the labour inspectorate, the labour minister said that “labour inspection is critical for ensuring one, the fundamental rights of workers are adhered to; two, that labour laws are enforced; three, employers are given advice on matters such as working time, health and safety in the workplace; and four, to bring to the attention of Cabinet the loopholes and to detect these loopholes and effects in the labour laws. He said that there were 51 site inspections in 2016 but that that number will be doubled to 100 in 2017. He revealed that site inspection has already begun for the year and that some of the sites to be inspected include construction sites, hotels and restaurants, wholesale and retail outlets, banking and security companies, manufacturing and agricultural industries.
Premier Amory said that education of the public “is very high on the priority list” and that workers and employers will be sensitized about their rights in the workplace and greater understanding of their responsibility in the world of work. To do this he said the Department of Labour plans to publish this year three newsletters, the first one will be published to coincide with The World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which is an annual international campaign to promote safe, healthy and decent work. It is held on April 28 and has been observed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 2003. He said that other avenues of educating the public will be workshops and the radio programme on ZIZ dubbed “The World of Work and You”.
In order to enhance the employment mechanisms and the statistics unit in the ministry and the department, the senior minister said that since January 2017, 110 persons registered with the Department of Labour seeking employment and thus the department is enhancing its outreach programme to find out what jobs are available and to help people find work corresponding with their particular skills set.
The Ministry and Department of Labour also intends to enhance the social protection system. Minister Amory highlighted the matters of severance payments and the long service gratuity. He said that so far for 2017 there have been no claims of severance payments but that for 2016, there were 550 severance payment claims in the amount of $7,655,255.09. In relation to long service gratuity claims, he said 139 were processed and approved in 2016 to the tune of $3,682,032.74 with the majority coming from the hospitality sector.
The senior minister said that his ministry is working to improve industrial relations. For the year thus far, the Department of Labour has heard 45 cases with 36 cases resolved and 39 cases still pending.
The Department will also try to advance international relations. According to Premier Amory, “there are commitments for the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis as the country is a member of the ILO and of CARICOM and the Inter-American Network of Labour Administration.” He said “that participation in these regional and international organizations is paramount if we want to have a better delivery of our labour administration portfolio and also in shaping of policy in respect to labour matters and legislation.”
In 2017, the Ministry of Labour and its functional arm, the Department of Labour, intends to make tripartism and social dialogue central themes for the creation of public policies in labour. He underscored the importance of this in saying that the dialogue with social partners and the other two partners in the tripartite arrangement “can minimize any fall out, any tension and conflict in the labour market arrangement.”
“In 2017, the Ministry of Labour intends to emphasize that labour is not a commodity and we express the view that people should not be treated like inanimate objects or as capital or just another mere factor of production,” said Premier Amory. “People who work for a living should be treated as human beings and accorded dignity and respect in the area of occupation.”
He added that labour is “a means for economic growth” and “a social concept for elevating people from poverty and should bring about social inclusion for workers to live in dignity and to play a part in their society.’
“The department will continue to work within the spirit of tripartism, advocating ideals such as the fundamental rights and principles at work, social dialogue, social protection, occupational safety and health, and to promote increased productivity and efficiency in the work place. It is also concerned that with the promotion and the sensitization and training, that the department will ensue strong and independent workers, effecting positive change in the lives and in the families of the employees and also to ensure that the employers will provide the opportunity for work, whether it is in a large business or a small business, that they too have and deserve the respect for their involvement in economic activity,” said Premier Amory.