This Saturday is a holiday, May 1st. It is the holiday known as Labour Day, one where Saint Lucia and other parts of the world pay tribute to workers.
In last weekend’s edition of this newspaper, we printed a 20-page Supplement that explained the origin of Labour Day, its importance and how it commemorates through the creation of that day, workers worldwide – that they are enjoying better working conditions, better pay and delivering higher yields.
While the labour movement in Saint Lucia is not as aggressive today as it was yesterday, this can be seen as a reflection of the evolution of the principle of equality between workers and employees.
From slavery, to colonization, to statehood, to independence, our journey has not been without its difficulties and its martyrs. And in the midst of it all was always the clarion call for better pay and better working conditions for the worker.
This cry, which rose out of the cotton fields, sugar cane fields, banana fields and the factory floors, is today resonating in offices, supermarkets, financial institutions, utility companies and the whole gamut of endeavours.
Despite the successes to date on the labour front, such as the passage of the Labour Act, a code regulating the rights of workers and establishing the obligations of employers, and the constantly increasing unionisation of workers, the cry for improved standards for the worker in terms of wages/salaries, working conditions, job security, health benefits and more continues.
That cry will increase in intensity, though change in tone, as the coronavirus continues to bite deeper and deeper into the economy. Hundreds of jobs have vanished worldwide, and right here in Saint Lucia workers have been furloughed or terminated and employers are finding it difficult to maintain pre-coronavirus employment figures through no fault of their own.
Under threat are past gains made by the labour movement.
The coronavirus pandemic has shifted the focus of the labour movement. Workers and employers are both on the ropes, struggling to ward off the economic blows delivered by the pandemic. A sense of partnership rather than confrontation is emerging. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of employer and employees working alongside each other to keep afloat that all important job.
And so Labour Day 2021 comes at a somber time for many Saint Lucians – worker and employer alike who have lost their jobs and their businesses. At the same time those still employed cannot feel all that elated, not with the pandemic still making waves in the community, and still carrying a power that could place the worker of today in the ranks of the unemployed tomorrow.
And so, what can this year’s Labour Day stand for?
We say that it stands for the young men and women (and some not so young), who, having lost their jobs picked themselves up and launched into becoming micro and small entrepreneurs. The pages of this newspaper are littered with such courageous souls.
This Labour Day also stands for the employers, who through thinning profit lines, held on to their pre-coronavirus staff complement and against the odds, in some business establishments, continued to pay employees full wages/salaries.
This Labour Day also stands for the workers who, through an understanding of the dynamics of the pandemic, gave up 25%, 35% and in some cases 50% off their regular salaries to keep their workplaces operational.
And so, as we move toward the second half of 2021 and beyond, the fight is for survival. The pandemic has taught us certain lessons that we should take note of in order for us to build a stronger, more resilient economy, have a better work ethic and be more giving to those less fortunate than us.
Partnership, not confrontation will see us through.