Minister of Labour, Social Security and the Third Sector, Colin Jordan, gives an update on the ILO’s (International Labour Organization) meeting which ran from March 14-25. (BGIS)

Barbados’ representation at high level meetings of the International Labour Organization (ILO), over the years, has always been instrumental in bringing about change for the country, workers and their representatives, here and in the region.

This was highlighted by Minister of Labour, Social Security and the Third Sector, Colin Jordan, as he spoke recently to the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) about his attendance at the 344th Session of the Governing Body of the ILO, in Geneva, March 14 to 25.

Mr. Jordan explained that the Governing Body is the Executive Council of the ILO, and it comprises 56 members – 28 from Government, and 14 each from employers and workers’ representatives.

Noting that the island was pleased to be one of the Government representatives drawn from across the world, he said: “We are the only small island developing state (SIDS) on the Governing Body; so that’s a responsibility that we take very seriously.  That drives our involvement and participation in the Governing Body sessions.”

The Labour Minister explained that the institution discusses issues related to the budget of the ILO, matters of complaints brought against member countries, and reviews matters related to conventions.  It also considers the agenda for future sessions of the International Labour Conference, which is convened every year in June, and it is the arm responsible for electing the Director-General.

It was with this latter role in mind that the Labour Minister spoke about the significance of Barbados’ contribution to the ILO decision-making process. He noted that Barbados was afforded the opportunity to participate in electing the new Director-General this year.

Explaining the importance of this, he said: “The election of a new Director-General is always a major event because he is the one who is working under the Governing Body; sets the priorities for the organization; sets the tone for how the organization interacts with its members – we talk about member states, social partners, employers and workers – so that participating in the election process was important for us….

International Labour Organization (ILO). (Stock Image)

“So there, meeting face-to-face, we had a better opportunity to assess persons; to be able to speak to them directly and get a good feel for the character, personality, objectives, the kind of person who we will be making a decision on.  And, I am satisfied the person, who was successful, the person who we supported will understand the issues of both the Global South, which we are a part of, and more importantly small island states….”

Pressed about how such a conference benefits small islands, Mr. Jordan said there were not only benefits to the labour market, but to the country and its workers.  And, he noted that Barbados was able to help determine whether the 2023 conference would discuss the care economy, or what is referred to as “just transition”.

“Just transition is an understanding that climate change is impacting and that jobs will evolve in that setting as we move to ‘green jobs’, but that the move from what we have currently to what the future holds for us, has to be done to treat to workers in a ‘just manner’. So it is called just transition and we were successful in having the Governing Body agree that ‘just transition’ should be the priority. We were very clear to them that climate and all matters related to climate, for us are existential.  And, the care economy, while very important, doesn’t carry the same weight as the matter of climate change,” Mr. Jordan explained.

He disclosed that Barbados was able to help the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) shift its position on this issue, and attributed this to the several representations Barbados had made over time. 

He shared that ECLAC had agreed to support the ‘just transition’ discussion in 2023 and the care economy discussion in 2024. 

“Just transition is an understanding that climate change is impacting and that jobs will evolve in that setting as we move to ‘green jobs’, but that the move from what we have currently to what the future holds for us, has to be done to treat to workers in a ‘just manner’.”

Minister of Labour, Social Security and the Third Sector, Colin Jordan

Barbados also added its voice to the discussion on Occupational Safety and Health being a fundamental right. While Minister Jordan revealed that this would be on the agenda in June, he said emphasis was expected to be placed on the impact of technology on Occupational Safety and Health.  

And, he remarked: “We were able to broaden the discussion and we agreed that the discussion should be broadened because Occupational Safety and Health touches on a number of different things.  

“We were able to add something that Barbados is helping to deal on.  Prime Minister [Mia Amor Mottley] is co-chair for a World Health Organization committee, speaking on anti-microbial resistance and we used that also as leverage to move the discussion forward. That is another area in which workers will benefit because it brings to the fore issues that affect people in the workplace.”

Minister of Labour, Social Security and the Third Sector, Colin Jordan, speaking on the importance of Barbados’ contribution to the International Labour Organization (ILO). (BGIS)

The Governing Body meeting also examined a paper on inequalities in the world of work.  Emphasising that it represented an outcome from the conference last year, the Labour Minister said: “That was close to our hearts from a number of perspectives; it speaks to justice and the Social Justice and the Social Justice Committee falls within the mandate of this Ministry; it speaks to non-discrimination and inclusion.”

Mr. Jordan pointed out that discussion dwelled on the way forward for addressing the matter of inequalities and the benefit to this country.  

“Formality and informality are ideas that are discussed when we talk about inequalities.  So, we had for example, in 2020, a situation where there were lots of workers, who were not part of the formal sector and so they were not included in the social protection that the National Insurance Scheme offers to persons who are part of that Scheme,” he stated.

The Minister said by Barbados staying focused on social security, it was able to move the discussion forward such that there was increased focus on the matter of inequalities and an understanding that emphasis must be on ensuring workers are covered in social security schemes.

Therefore, with Barbados’ presence on the Governing Body of the ILO, it can be expected that its people and others in the Caribbean would continue to have a voice in international policy-making on labour and employment matters.

joy-ann.gill@barbados.gov.bb

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