The call for reparations by Caribbean governments and other interests has its genesis in the injustice suffered by Caribbean people when they were under European colonial rule.
It is well known that the British were directly involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slavery led to Caribbean colonies being drained of their limited natural resources. Most importantly, slavery was more or less a calculated action that involved the exploitation of Africans.
Africans were sold into slavery and that experience has impacted on the dignity of black men and women. Slavery has been long condemned and today there is still a raging debate on the subject of compensation to be paid by the former European colonial masters for their inept, unscrupulous and exploitative behaviour.
From whatever angle this matter is examined, what stands out is the fact that workers were the ones to suffer at the hands of capital. It is fair to say that with the advent of trade unions, there have been some fundamental changes that have transformed the way labour is perceived and treated.
Nonetheless, there remains evidence of worker exploitation and worker abuse at the hands of some employers. The fact that workers now enjoy negotiated conditions of service and are paid a wage or salary, would tend to suggest that there has been tremendous improvement.
Moreover, the promotion of human rights, rights at work, the decent work agenda, labour standards and progressive labour legislation, the right to freely choose work, the right not to be discriminated against and the right not to be coerced to work, contribute altogether to better conditions for workers today compared with during the colonial period.
There is, however, some cause for concern when one looks at some of the daily happenings related to the relationship between employees and employers. The behaviour and actions of some employers in failing to observe the principles, standards and best practices associated with employee engagement, are undermining the expected and anticipated goodwill that should underpin the employer-employee relationship.
One disturbing experience that can be highlighted is the failure of some employers, including Government as the largest single employer, to meet their commitment to pay employees when wages or salaries are due. This is conceivably a breach of arrangement. It is disgusting that an employee should be required to come to work on a daily basis for a period extending as much as three months, without receiving a wage or salary. Governments are known to be guilty of such behaviour and action.
In many known cases, the temporary employee is the category of worker who is made to suffer the indignation and disrespect that come with this. In private enterprises, the story is about the same. The worst part is that some workers are then pressured to work overtime. Some suffer the fate of having their pay docked if they were to absent themselves from work for a day for whatever reason, or report late for work. What about this can be fair?
It is also worrisome when employees who faithfully report for work and execute their daily duties, find that in times of illness that the employer has not paid their portion of the employee’s National Insurance contribution. These are some of the cruel and indiscriminate acts which are perpetrated upon workers.
Where do we go from here? It is for workers to stand up for their rights. It is for workers to avoid efforts directed at alienating the workforce. Workers must act with both prudence and common sense if they are to avoid the trap of becoming complacent about past achievements, without being conscious that employers will always be considering ways in which to maintain control over them.
Fair treatment will only be assured if workers demand that this is the case. Complaining only will not change anything. It is for workers to recognize that they must be the catalyst for change. They must demand that there is accountability, as this is the sure way to have the many known and unknown injustices against workers to stop.
The best way to do this is to expose those employers who would stop at nothing to exploit their employees, and place employees in positions where intimidation and fear would drive them to compromise themselves.
(Dennis DePeiza is a labour management consultant at Regional Management Services Inc. Send feedback to email@example.com)