Thank you for that introduction Permanent Secretary Beneby. Let me also extend a hearty welcome to the representatives of the International Labour Organization. I truly hope that they will enjoy their stay so much that they will return as tourists in the future.
“They who are united in purpose will be victorious”. This quotation is taken from The Art of War, a chinese text written 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The question of how this is relevant to a forum on industrial relations in The Commonwealth Of TheBahamas, will be answered during the course of my address.
If we were to examine the economic challenges that have faced this country in the last ten years, and also consider those that we may face in the years to come; we will realize that many of them have their origins outside of The Bahamas or are presently beyond our control. I speak of the FTAA blacklisting that affected our banking sector some years ago.
I speak of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that has affected real estate sales and is expected to tighten access to credit. I speak of the heavy rainfall in Inagua which will have an adverse affect on thatisland’s main industry, salt collection. It is reported that those same heavy rains have caused some of the worst flooding onLongIslandin sixty years. The Minister for Agriculture, Larry Cartwright has stated that our small agricultural sector will be negatively affected. These abnormally heavy rains may, or may not be caused by global warming.
Ladies and gentlemen, while we may categorize ourselves as labour or management, employee or employer, worker or boss, in actuality we are united in the common goals of Bahamian progress and the continuation of theBahamian wayof life. I return to my opening statement, “They who are united in purpose, will be victorious.” When we consider the external economic and environmental challenges that face us can we afford not to be united in purpose?
If in this quotation we take the word “victory” and substitute the word “profitable”, it becomes even more relevant to this forum. The activities that can be deemed profitable in the long run will be: adequate workers’ compensation; proper training; orderly conduct at work; commitment to excellence at all levels and fair labour practices. We can reason that wildcat strikes, lockouts by management; employee pilfering; interunionand intra union strife; and authoritarian management styles are activities that lead to losses by the company and the country.
Tripartite Fora such as this allows us to examine and deliberate on issues relevant to the continued growth of TheBahamas. Here, differences between workers and employers need to be discussed fully and resolved amicably. To ensure that this process will continue, the present government will maintain an open door policy with both unions and employer associations.
As stated in Manifesto 2007, this administration is committed to the following:
- The strengthening of Government’s labour relations through bipartite and tripartite consultation
- The institution of a more effective system for the settlement of disputes between employers and employees
- The provision of incentives for private firms to offer profit-sharing arrangements or share/stock options to their employees
- The promotion of technical and vocational training in the public and private sector
- The introduction of a system of apprenticeship in essential disciplines such as the building trades, garment manufacture cabinet and furniture making.
- Assisting unions and others in the operation and management of community centres and day care facilities for children of working parents.
These plans cannot be accomplished without an institutionalized and codified method of tripartite consultation. In our most recently passed labour legislation, The Minimum Wages Act, The Health and Safety Act and the Employment Act, it is mandated that the government consult with its social partners of organized labour unions and Employer Associations before regulations can be implemented.
In closing, if a country the size of TheBahamasis to remain competitive, it must have a cohesive workforce committed to nation-building while, at the same time minimizing industrial unrest. This theme, “The Importance of Social Dialogue in Achieving and Maintaining Industrial Harmony” needs to be taken to heart by each person attending this conference.
Bearing in mind the outside forces that can effect all segments of the Bahamian economy, it is imperative to unite in purpose to achieve and maintain industrial harmony.
Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention.