The sys­tem of (in)de­cent work and growth

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Imani Dun­canPrice Imani Dun­can-Price is co­ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Caribbean Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, a World Eco­nomic Fo­rum Young Global Leader, and for­mer sen­a­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and fulltic­i­pa­

WORLD DAY for De­cent Work was Oc­to­ber 7. Of the United Na­tions’ 17 Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goal (SDGs), goal num­ber 8 calls for the pro­mo­tion of in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth, em­ploy­ment, and de­cent work for all. Why is all this rel­e­vant to Ja­maica?

The new way the world looks at growth to­day is very rel­e­vant, given Ja­maica’s level of in­equal­ity and the con­tin­ued push for growth that both ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties have been fo­cused on. Fur­ther­more, given the sac­ri­fices over the last four years to cor­rect the eco­nomic foun­da­tion with struc­tural re­forms and sig­nif­i­cant debt re­duc­tion to en­able growth, it is im­per­a­tive that Ja­maica be clear on the kind of growth it pur­sues.

The old way to growth is very top-down and large-in­vest­ments driven, pri­mar­ily through for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI). In the 1960s, Ja­maica’s GDP growth av­er­aged 4.5%. How­ever, that was ac­com­pa­nied by ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment in the 1960s. The un­em­ploy­ment rate was 13% in 1962 and 23% in 1972. This, along with in­creased in­come in­equal­ity and at­ten­dant wide­spread dis­con­tent, proved too much for the then JLP govern­ment. The 1972 PNP govern­ment then fo­cused on sys­temic change in Ja­maica, with sig­nif­i­cant pro­grammes to make the so­ci­ety truly in­clu­sive and ad­dress the sub­stan­tial in­equal­ity and per­sis­tent class di­vi­sions – with rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes in labour laws, ed­u­ca­tion, women’s rights, and youth rights. How­ever, the global ide­o­log­i­cal war­fare and, in­ter­na­tional oil cri­sis, along with cer­tain eco­nomic pol­icy choices, led to a pe­riod of neg­a­tive growth for Ja­maica.

It’s time for Ja­maica to chart a new path, and in recog­ni­tion of global re­al­i­ties and con­tin­ued lo­cal sys­temic is­sues, go for both – in­clu­sive growth. With de­cent work. And that is sus­tain­able.

How does Ja­maica drive such growth?

The struc­ture of Ja­maica’s econ­omy and the low-skilled na­ture of the labour force mean that a con­tin­ued push for cer­tain FDI will not solve the coun­try’s growth prob­lem. Af­ter all, Thomas and Serju, in Ex­plain­ing Ja­maica’s Growth Puzzle, as­serted that the econ­omy reg­is­tered mar­ginal growth of 1.3% be­tween 1990 and 2005, de­spite sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment av­er­ag­ing 28.9% of GDP. They note that the in­vest­ment did not in­volve an ex­pan­sion of the ‘pro­duc­tive’ cap­i­tal stock, but was con­cen­trated in build­ing con­struc­tion (as with tourism), se­cu­rity, and re­place­ment of ex­ist­ing cap­i­tal (as with up­grad­ing of baux­ite plants).


What does this mean for Ja­maica’s pol­icy choices? The coun­try has to fi­nally come to a sus­tained bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on real in­vest­ment in rel­e­vant qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to lift the skill set and pro­duc­tiv­ity of the labour force and real sus­tained in­vest­ment in se­cu­rity. Ed­u­ca­tion and se­cu­rity should be pri­or­ity agree­ments over one gen­er­a­tion – 25 years. This trade-off means cit­i­zens be­ing pa­tient with bad roads, water, and health, and politi­cians be­ing trans­par­ent and ac­count­able with fund­ing these pri­or­ity ar­eas.

Oth­er­wise, Ja­maica will be stuck vy­ing for in­vest­ments cen­tred on low-pay­ing jobs and in­dus­tries that have lit­tle flow through to the rest of the econ­omy. Take, for ex­am­ple, low-wage tourism and call cen­tres. These are crit­i­cal en­try points now, but what of the fu­ture for in­clu­sive growth with de­cent work?

Ja­maica has been here be­fore with en­try in­dus­tries. In the 1980s, there was a plethora of FDI with the es­tab­lish­ment of 809 Free Zones. What if the then govern­ment had con­tin­ued the in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion when there was growth, build­ing on that hu­man cap­i­tal in­vest­ment from the 1970s? And sub­se­quently, the gov­ern­ments in the 1990s and into the 2000s do­ing the same? Where would Ja­maica be to­day?

In go­ing for in­clu­sive growth, can pol­i­cy­mak­ers in­vest in short-term and longterm se­cu­rity pro­grammes so that the tourism in­dus­try can in­vest in a model and ex­pe­ri­ence that drive more spend­ing within the econ­omy – a Ja­maica-in­clu­sive model? With all-in­clu­sives com­pris­ing 80 per cent of the room stock, and ap­prox­i­mately 80 per cent of those be­ing owned by for­eign­ers who repa­tri­ate funds to ex­ter­nal coun­tries, it is lit­tle won­der that all that FDI has not driven GDP growth. Pri­or­ity in­vest­ment in se­cu­rity would ben­e­fit all Ja­maicans as well.

In go­ing for sus­tain­able growth with de­cent work, can the Ja­maican pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the play­ers in the tourism in­dus­try agree on the coun­try’s car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity so that in­vest­ment pro­mot­ers know the max­i­mum num­ber of rooms the is­land can man­age? And for ev­ery in­vest­ment that comes in, ne­go­ti­ate not just for sus­tain­able waste man­age­ment for the ho­tel, but also for the com­mu­ni­ties that have to be estab­lished to house the work­ers that serve the guests of the ho­tels.

Ne­go­ti­ate, too, for ho­tel work­ers to re­ceive so­cial pro­tec­tion such as pen­sions. They work long hours and are ex­pected to do so with a genuine smile. Peo­ple won­der why pil­fer­ing hap­pens in ho­tels. Di­vide the wages by num­ber of hours worked and be­gin to un­der­stand that some feel to­day that it is akin to mod­ern-day slav­ery in some es­tab­lish­ments.

Ja­maica’s ap­proach to tourism is not the way to ‘de­cent work’ and sus­tain­able in­clu­sive growth.

In­clu­sive growth and de­cent work also means en­sur­ing all laws and reg­u­la­tions needed to make the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (ILO) Con­ven­tion 189 (C189) a liv­ing re­al­ity for all do­mes­tic work­ers are de­bated, passed, and im­ple­mented by Septem­ber 2017.

Ob­serv­ing Ja­maica’s rat­i­fi­ca­tion of C189 at the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly on Septem­ber 22, 2016, was an hon­our. It was es­pe­cially grat­i­fy­ing to see Shirley Pryce speak on be­half of the Ja­maica House­hold Work­ers Union (JHWU) af­ter the per­sis­tent lob­by­ing and ad­vo­cacy over the last five years. Ac­tively sup­port­ing those lob­by­ing ef­forts yielded much learn­ing on what it takes to cre­ate mean­ing­ful change so peo­ple can have dig­nity, safety, and stan­dards in all work sit­u­a­tions.


But the ef­fort does not stop at that key mile­stone of rat­i­fi­ca­tion. The Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is al­most com­plete. It is crit­i­cal that this bill be passed by March 2017. This will en­able other crit­i­cal reg­u­la­tions to be put in place to se­cure ‘De­cent Work Stan­dards for Do­mes­tic Work­ers’.

Ja­maica also needs a mind­set shift among all em­ploy­ers of the more than 100,000 do­mes­tic work­ers (this in­cludes all per­sons work­ing in the do­mes­tic space – helpers, nan­nies, gar­den­ers, driv­ers). In the cul­tural revo­lu­tion of the 1970s, many em­ploy­ers were up­set when their helpers got the right to walk through the front door, that their chil­dren would go to school with the chil­dren of peo­ple in lower classes – all based on merit, not how much money one had in the spirit of build­ing a re­spect­ful egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety.

There is now a need for the sec­ond cul­tural revo­lu­tion where helpers, driv­ers, gar­den­ers, nan­nies are seen as equal to the for­mal fam­ily mem­bers that they serve – per­haps this time driven by in­di­vid­ual aware­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion. A revo­lu­tion where they, as ser­vice providers, look at the skills they bring to their ser­vice and give it their ut­most best, too, with pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

But be real! There is more ac­tion to be taken with those who have the power – the em­ployer. Think what life would be like with­out such sup­port in the do­mes­tic sphere.

With that thought in the fore­front, ask your­self, “Am I pay­ing my helper/driver/gar­dener enough based on the value they pro­vide?” Think about it not in re­la­tion to min­i­mum wage re­quired by law or the over­sup­ply of ser­vice providers in the mar­ket. If the an­swer is no, if their ef­fort and ser­vice are worth more, give them an in­crease and tell them why. If you can’t pro­vide an in­crease, write a let­ter or sit down and share with them how much you ap­pre­ci­ate their con­tri­bu­tion to the house­hold, and when­ever pos­si­ble, trans­late that ap­pre­ci­a­tion into some­thing tan­gi­ble. In the mean­time, ad­vo­cacy has to grow strong and united for a liv­ing wage in Ja­maica!


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