An Address

by The Minister of Labour & Social Development

The Honorable Dion Foulkes

at the One-day Seminar of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Trade Union Congress.

26th September, 2008

President, Mr. Obie Ferguson, First Vice- President, Winston Moss, other specially invited guests, officers and members of Trade Union Congress, Good Morning.

When I received the invitation to speak at this seminar, I was both pleased and excited.

Pleased, because I took the invitation to mean that I am still in good standing with this umbrella organization.

Excited, because this is an opportunity to address a number of leaders at one event on a topic of great import, “Strategic Planning for the Way Forward.”

Realizing that this is a one-day seminar, and that you have much to discuss, I will try to make my remarks brief, despite the fact that there is much I wish to say on the recent developments in labour relations during the past twelve months.

One of the more recent developments has been the resumption of the Tripartite Forum on Labour of which we can all be proud.

Trifor brought together representatives of government, employers and workers organizations, The Chamber of Commerce as well as non-governmental organizations to discuss issues related to labour.

Trifor was an overall success, which was largely due to the full participation of unions and employers. it also showed that with proactive instead of reactive movement, many contentious issues could be resolved amicably.

Coming directly out of Trifor was the Decent Work Country Programme. The DWCP is the mechanism through which the International Labour Organization will support the Bahamas’ commitment to Social Dialogue.

The Decent Work Country Programme has three areas of priority:
1) The institutional strengthening of the Department of Labour so that it can lead the way in making “Decent Work for All” a part of the National Development Agenda.
2) The second priority is to make tripartism and social dialogue central themes in the creation of public policies on labour.
3) The third priority deals with labour legislation and rights at work.

Many of these topics have already been targeted for consideration and action by the present government of The Bahamas.

To ensure that this process will continue, we maintain an open door policy with both employers and Unions, while keeping up to date on the latest developments from the ILO.
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.

      The government is committed to continuing consultation with its social partners of organized labour unions and Employer Associations before regulations are implemented.
      It can be seen therefore, that The Bahamas continues to be at the forefront, in the area of labour relations management and development.

The articles of the DWCP were signed in April of this year. this historic signing would not have been possible without the co-operation and help of the following persons: Mr. Obie Ferguson, Mr. Roscoe Perpall and Mr. Tyrone Morris. The support of these men in particular, and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Trade Union Congress in general cannot be overstated.

I wish once again thank all of you for supporting the DWCP initiaitive.

ladies and gentlemen, the TUC has already made great strides towards achieving the goals set out in this seminar’s agenda. If we consider some of the challenges that the Bahamian workforce will face in the coming years, a sound long-term strategy is not a luxury but a requirement. I have every confidence that this organization will continue to grow and be a major force in organized labour.

Yet, with great power also comes great responsibility. In his book, “A Bahamian Life Story”, Sir Clifford Darling explained that neither he nor Randolph Fawkes, nor Lynden Pindling were able to see the consequences of the General Strike of 1958. While many of them were positive, some were not. The Nassau Guardian was burned to the ground, as were the temporary barracks of the English Army Division stationed here during the strike.

While industrial action must sometimes be taken, union leaders should at all times be mindful of what can happen when calm heads do not prevail.

An example of this would be the recent action at the Morton Salt Plant in Inagua, where some union members were physically injured, company property was damaged or destroyed and criminal charges were filed.

a trusting relationship once destroyed is very hard to restore. Nevertheless, we must all remember, that turmoil can be brought to order, animosity can be turned to agreement.

In the case of Morton Salt, I was pleased to see the parties reached agreement and trust is now beginning to be restored to the relationship.

Permit me to say a few words about your president, Mr. Obie ferguson. The trade Union movement in the bahamas is better of because of leaders like Mr. Obie fergurson.

He has devoted his entire adult life to the advancement of the bahamian worker.

As Minister of Labour it is indeed my privilege to have Mr. ferguson as a partner in the development of industrial relations in our beloved country.

In conclusion, I congratulate all of you for your commitment to the development of labour in The Bahamas, and hope that the seminar is most beneficial to all of its participants.