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The Inside Opinion

Caribbean Labour Ministers prioritise issues for International Labour Conference

Published:Wednesday | December 1, 2021 | 8:17 AMProject Syndicate, A Digital Integration & Marketing production

Port-of-Spain: Rebuilding labour markets to address challenges, such as inequalities, inadequate social protection coverage, skills gaps and climate vulnerabilities, that have worsened during the pandemic was the main focus of the latest Caribbean Ministers of Labour Meeting.

Hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the virtual event provided a knowledge-sharing forum to help Caribbean countries discuss and articulate regional priorities in preparation for the second session of the 109th International Labour Conference (ILC), which started on November 25. The previous session was held in June 2021.

The Caribbean meeting drew Ministers of Labour, Permanent Secretaries, labour commissioners and other senior government representatives from 11 member states and eight non-metropolitan territories.

“We hope you use this opportunity to agree on how the Caribbean region can effectively participate in the ILC,” said Mr Vinícius Carvalho Pinheiro, Assistant Director-General of the ILO and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, during his opening remarks. “It has been a very challenging year for the Caribbean, given the impact on the tourism sector, and I think this meeting also provides an opportunity for you to look at opportunities to follow up on the global call to action for a human-centred recovery from COVID-19.”

The meeting continued with a conversation on the contributions that the Caribbean makes to the work of the ILO, particularly in the context of the ILC, and the recent 343rd ILO Governing Body Session, held in September 2021. Key priorities identified include advancing information technology and communication (ITC) for training and skills development; support for making occupational safety and health as a fundamental right at work; decent work in the care economy and the just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies.

“The matter of just transition really relates to climate. It relates to how we will transition our economies to be more sustainable and how will that transition will be just for the people – for workers – across our countries. For small island developing states in the Caribbean, the just transition has moved beyond important to critical,” explained Honourable Colin Jordan, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations of Barbados, who led the conversation.

Ms Rosa-Mae Whittier, Director of the International Affairs Unit, Ministry of Labour, Trinidad and Tobago, joined the session to present highlights from first session of the 109th ILC in June 2021. She discussed the Caribbean's participation in the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) to articulate national positions towards the development of the ILO Resolution for the global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

“It is key to ensure that countries participate in GRULAC meetings so that states can advocate for particular labour interests of the region and appeal for the challenges faced by small island developing states at the level of the ILC,” she stated.

The need for strengthening social protection systems across region was emphasised by His Excellency Chad Blackman, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva.

“Access to an adequate level of social protection is recognised by the International Labour Standards and the UN as a basic right to all individuals, yet most women and men do not have adequate levels of social protection,” explained Ambassador Blackman. “Social protection assumes even greater importance within the Caribbean region where we have seen increased enterprise and sectoral restructuring and the spread of non-standard forms of employment.” 

The ministers and other high-level delegates were joined by ILO experts from Geneva who shared insights and recommendations from two key ILC Reports aimed at advancing a human-centred recovery from COVID-19.

Mr Patrick Belser, ILO Senior Economist, shared key findings from the ILC Report IV: Inequalities and the World of Work, including developments emerging from the COVID-19 crisis, as well as possible solutions for reducing inequalities. Mr Srinivas Reddy, ILO Branch Chief, Skills and Employability Branch, discussed ILC Report VI: Shaping skills and lifelong learning for the future of work, which included topics such as skills anticipation, matching and reshaping.

“I believe we are all now even more prepared to participate in the second part of the 109th International Labour Conference,” stated the Honourable Stephen McClashie, Minister of Labour of Trinidad and Tobago, during his closing remarks. “I would like to thank Mr Dennis Zulu, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean, and his staff for organising this meeting which has given Caribbean Ministers of Labour a forum to discuss issues of particular importance to our country."


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021.

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