International Workers’ Day, commonly known as May Day, is celebrated in Barbados on May 1st of each year. The theme for this year is “The Time is Now.” This theme conjures up images of that famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., when he made the statement, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” Indeed, now is the time to understand and recognise the recent experiences of our workers in and out of the workplace. Now is the time to take action to defend human dignity and the rights of working people across our land.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent eruption of the La Soufrière volcano on the island of St. Vincent have demonstrated how employers and workers can be negatively impacted by developments over which they have little or no control.
These calamities have taught us many valuable lessons. One of these is that all workers, including those often overlooked because they are at the bottom of the earning scale, are important and, like all human beings, are to be respected.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Partnership Relations recognises that these are unprecedented times and have sought to put measures in place to ease the tremendous burden on low-income workers. One of these is based on the understanding that workers, if they are to feel valued and be productive, need to be able to provide the basics for themselves and their dependents.
In this regard, Government has, for the first time, implemented a national minimum wage. This became effective on April 1st, exactly one month ago. Workers like petrol station attendants, and those in the domestic and retail sectors will benefit. We recognise that these workers are predominantly women, are in many respects on the frontline in the COVID-19 pandemic, and are also responsible for much of the care work in households. Security Guards now also have a minimum wage. It is the right time to establish minimum wages.
Government enacted legislation to prevent discrimination of any kind in employment, and my Ministry is currently working in partnership with UN Women on a project addressing gender-based violence in the workplace. The time to protect workers is now.
The plight of many businesses, particularly those in the Tourism sector, and the impact on their ability to function and retain workers did not go unnoticed. The Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation programme was designed to assist these businesses while maintaining employment. We believe that now is the time to offer support that will keep workers employed.
Now is also the time for a new and improved way of working. To this end, Government has instituted the Flexible Work Arrangement Policy for the Public Service. This policy incorporates four types of arrangements: compressed week, flexi-time, staggered hours and telecommuting.
It is anticipated that this change in the working arrangements will allow for better work-life balance for public officers and, at the same time, benefit ministries and departments as well as the publics they serve. It is also expected that productivity will improve within the sector and absenteeism will be reduced among officers.
We applaud those front-line workers who have given of their best during these difficult times. We recognise that you, conscious of the moment, have gone beyond the call of duty to help your country as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank you for the excellent job you are doing.
Even though we are not able to celebrate today with the customary rally, we recognise the important role of workers’ organisations, particularly trade unions and staff associations. Your role remains critical and vital, especially at a time of economic challenge. Your role, and the role of your delegates in the workplace, must be respected. This Government will insist on nothing less.
As Barbados celebrates May Day 2021, Government recommits to the International Labour Organization’s primary goal: to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.