Address by The Prime Minister to Sub-Regional Symposium for National Employers’ OECS
A NEW PLATFORM FOR EMPLOYERS
Prime Minister Dr. The Hon. Kenny D. Anthony
to Sub-Regional Symposium for National Employers’ Organizations of the Eastern Caribbean States
Bay Gardens Hotel
February 6, 2006
A New Platform For Employers
Greetings … Ladies and Gentlemen
Sometime during the second half of last year I met with representatives of the St Lucia Employers’ Federation to discuss wide ranging issues of concern to that organization. The Federation placed these issues within the context of the imminence of the CSME, and what they described as the urgent need for the definition of not only national, but sub regional/OECS employer perspectives on this most significant regional initiative.
It was clear that the concerns which occupied the minds of members of the Federation were shared by employers and their organizations within the wider OECS. It was clear too, that if the OECS employers’ organizations were to be capable of confronting the challenges of the CSME, there would be need for strengthening institutional capacity, and for the infusion of new life into them.
And so I issued something of a challenge to the President of the Federation, that he should seek to bring those organizations together to discuss their concerns, to share perspectives, and to explore options for confronting the challenges which lay ahead. For my part, in order to facilitate the process, I was prepared to host the event, whatever that would involve.
I must tell you today that I am exceedingly happy that I issued that challenge, and made that offer. I am also very impressed by the response of Mr. Charles and his team at the St Lucia Employers’ Federation to that challenge.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my understanding that you will over the next couple of days be engaged in in-depth exploration of a wide range of issues which bear significant business and industrial relations implications for the OECS sub-region.
These issues would
include inter alia, Work Permit Regulations across the OECS, Skills
Accreditation Procedures in the context of the CSME, the formation of National
Tripartite Labour/Productivity Councils, and quite
interestingly, Cross Island Trade Union Representation. These are all critically
important issues which you have placed on your agenda. It appears that the basis
has been laid for a rather exciting engagement. I commend you, and in
particular, the St Lucia Employers’ Federation for boldly leading the way for
the sub-region, into areas where others are yet to venture.
A NEW PLATFORM
I have noted too that the symposium is being held against the backdrop of the recent inauguration of the CARICOM Single Market (CSM) and that the CSME will in fact be featuring prominently in your deliberations. I consider this symposium to be most timely therefore, as the CSME has now become the platform upon which all business relations within the Caribbean Community will be pursued.
While I make reference to the inauguration of the CARICOM Single Market, I hasten to remind you that the Market currently comprises only six Member States of the Caribbean Community, namely Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. The six independent OECS countries of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines have committed themselves to full participation by the end of June 2006.
Notwithstanding the delay in implementation of the CARICOM Single Market by the OECS grouping, the reality, ladies and gentlemen, is that the CSM is truly upon us. As I had indicated earlier, the CARICOM Single Market constitutes the platform upon which all business relations within the Caribbean Community will be pursued. In this schema the employer, particularly if he or she is also an investor, assumes and enjoys a most central position.
MOVEMENT OF FACTORS OF PRODUCTION
I say this for two reasons. Firstly the CARICOM Single Market speaks to the unrestricted movement of factors of production across the borders of sovereign states which have constituted themselves as a single commercial space or market. Secondly, in our context, the employer often bears responsibility for managing the utilization of the factors of production available to the enterprise. As such, it is in the very best interest of our employers for the market to be characterized by the highest levels of fluidity and factor mobility. The success or failure of the employer and his or her enterprise will depend ultimately upon whether the CARICOM Single Market functions as it should.
NEED FOR KNOWLEDGE
A major implication of this, is that employers within our Community must be intimately knowledgeable about the CSME – the rationale for its establishment, and the mechanics of its operation – as well as their central position within it. Employers, business leaders, and yes, politicians often speak glibly, issue pronouncements with considerable profundity, and when tested, are found to have not even read the provisions of the Treaty governing the Single Market and Economy. This is inexcusable because problems that do not exist, are invented. Issues are raised and treated as problems, when a cursory reading will show that answers are readily found in the language of the Treaty. The Treaty establishing the CSME must become essential reading for employers, politicians and decision makers.
One area of the CSME which will hold particular interest for employers is the Free Movement of Skills/Labour. The Regime for the Free Movement of Skills/Labour confers upon a CARICOM National the right to work either as a wage earner, or non-wage earner in any CARICOM Member State, provided that certain criteria are satisfied. As you would appreciate, the development of this regime has presented numerous challenges for regional governments, particularly with respect to wage earners.
EXPANSION OF LIST
A decision has been taken by CARICOM Heads of Government to expand the categories of wage earners eligible for free movement within the Community. No decision has yet been made on this issue. It is expected that recommendations will soon be submitted to Heads of Government for their consideration. This conference may wish to offer its views to the regional political directorate on the new categories of workers to be included in the regime. I believe that the Heads of Government will adopt a phased and gradual approach to expanding the movement of wage labour across the Community. Indeed, that is the approach that the Government of St Lucia will advocate.
SOME TEETHING PROCEDURAL MATTERS
Relatedly, once established, companies and other legal business entities are entitled to bring in managerial, supervisory, and technical personnel for the purpose of carrying on their work. The rights of those persons to move freely is restricted, and is limited to the business entities sponsoring them. They do not enjoy the right to move on their own accord, unless they belong to one of the five categories of wage earners described earlier.
EXAMINATION OF ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS
Ladies and Gentlemen, the benefits derived from the establishment of the CSME can easily be negated if the industrial relations climate is characterized by instability. A major preoccupation of this Government is the creation and maintenance of a stable industrial relations climate. This concern is undoubtedly shared by employers and their organizations. It is absolutely imperative that Government, employers and the labor movement work together to ensure that the gains achieved to date, as well as those accruing from the creation of the CSME are not lost.
For its part, the
Government of St Lucia has been pursuing a number of initiatives including the
review and enactment of labour legislation, to fashion a new industrial
environment. St Lucia will press ahead to enact a new Labour Code later this
year. Little Anguilla, I note, is in the process of enacting a Labour Code to
modernize its industrial behaviour and practice. In this new environment, it
will be necessary to have laws which are accessible, predictable, and easily
understood. Archaic and uncertain laws have no place in this new, emerging
dispensation which will require fairly rapid adjustment.
OVERCOMING FEAR AND ANXIETY
The movement of skills and labour will undoubtedly unleash fear, anxiety and prejudice, particularly in the OECS. Some will feel threatened by the arrival of new skills. The unemployed will feel even more marginalised. Dispossession and alienation could acquire new meaning. How can we tackle these problems, if only to avoid this possibility of receding into insularity and all its prejudices?
At home we must continue, relentlessly, to create employment in the new emerging sectors, in Tourism, Services and Information Technology. Secondly, ordinary wage earners must be given access to the labour market of other countries where demand is high, for their skills. For example, Trinidad and Tobago should turn to the OECS, particularly St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent and Grenadines where displaced labour exists, to feed the sectors where labour is in short supply.
Government as well as employers have a huge responsibility to calm fears and anxieties. Crucially, we must depoliticize the march to the CSME, and eliminate the temptation by some to see the CSME as the enterprise of those entrusted with governance.
A CONDUCIVE CLIMATE
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is evident that the prevailing climate is one that is conducive to the expansion of economic activity within the Caribbean Community. There is every reason for optimism, as initiatives such as this symposium can only serve to further enhance the business environment. I wish the organizers, the sponsors, and the participants, every success in their deliberations, and take great pleasure in declaring open, the Sub-regional Symposium for National Employers’ Organizations of the Eastern Caribbean States.
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