Each year on February 20th, Barbados joins with the global community to commemorate World Day of Social Justice, a day that was declared by the United Nations General Assembly on November 26th, 2007. Today every Barbadian should consider whether or not Barbados has been able to achieve a fairer and more just society for all of its citizens.
The Government of which I am a part continues to recognise that, in service to Barbadians, we must be a Government that delivers for ALL, and our country’s continued success can only be achieved through active citizenship by engaged citizens. It is therefore imperative that opportunities be made available for participation in all spheres of activities—socially, economically, politically, and environmentally.
The theme for World Day of Social Justice 2022 is “Achieving Social Justice through Formal Employment.” The COVID-19 pandemic, whilst being a public health crisis, has also presented a number of challenges globally. Economies were forced into recession and businesses closed permanently. Already vulnerable populations, particularly, women, young people, the elderly, and persons living with disabilities bear the brunt of the impact.
Barbados did not escape unscathed. We saw increased unemployment levels, especially among our women and young people, and reduced working hours for many of our working population during periods of lockdown and extended curfew hours. In an effort to keep their heads above water, many entered the informal economy as entrepreneurs or engaged in transient forms of unregulated employment.
The resilience and adaptability of Barbadians must be acknowledged and lauded.
Government, in its role as a facilitator of enterprise, enacted vending legislation in 2021, thus ensuring that persons embarking on a career in vending can do so recognising it as a legitimate form of income-generating economic activity. We have also introduced a national minimum wage for workers and enacted legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment.
Whilst the informal economy provides income and allows persons to support themselves and their dependents, the uncomfortable truth is that it does not offer the protection needed for situations that reduce or eliminate the flow of income. There is therefore a need to bring these informal jobs and enterprises into the formal economy.
This requires a balanced approach combining education, awareness-building, incentives and strong compliance measures. Government as policy maker, working in tandem with employers, workers’ representatives, and civil society, must develop strategies that would facilitate social protection being provided to those not currently covered.
Our people must recognise the importance of having access to and participating in social security schemes that would provide benefits in times of illness, injury, unemployment, or as one ages. This will allow us to advance towards a fairer and more just society.
In 2018, Government established the Social Justice Committee, and this committee, along with members of service clubs, has been instrumental in guiding decision-making, and in the provision of material and psychological assistance to the most vulnerable during recent periods of unemployment and natural disasters.
We will be unyielding in our efforts to ensure the protection of human rights, the preservation of human dignity, and the realisation of a more equitable society, where persons can have access to safe and decent work. This will necessitate the review of our employment policies, the enhancement of our labour legislation, and continuous engagement of all stakeholders through social dialogue.
Achieving social justice is not a fantasy, but a requirement for human-centred development and the building of a fair and just society.
Minister of Labour, Social Security and the Third Sector, Colin Jordan