Any discussion on dignity and rights at work is expected to address the following issues: how the employer responds to ensuring productive work, the payment of a decent and just wage, provision for the payment of an adequate pension, the payment of contributions to the social security benefit scheme, respecting the choice of employees to organize and join unions, regularizing legal status for immigrant workers, respecting the rights of private property and to economic initiative, and the non-discrimination and exploitation of workers.
Based on the facts presented, the conclusion can be reached –– and rightly so –– that slave labour was undignified. Today, human trafficking which takes on the face of slave labour, is equally undignified. It is relatively clear that at the heart of it, is the exploitation of the individual.
The abhorrence of any form of forced labour lies at the core of the campaign for the promotion of human rights. The treatment of workers by employers can call into question the employers’ observance of the dignity of the work. This treatment speaks to promoting dignity of the job, where there is an absence of exploitation, discrimination and satisfying the payment of a decent wage to employees.
From the employee’s perspective, the giving of honest work speaks to the dignity that is brought to the job. One of the shortcomings that brings into question the dignity of work, is the deprivation of the payment of wages and/or salaries to employees by their employers when due. It is disgraceful that any employer should delay the payment of workers, but yet expect a high level of productivity. It is unsatisfactory that employees in some instances suffer the indignity of having to wait for extended periods of time, before payment is made.
There is an expectation and a virtual right that a worker is paid for work completed. To deprive an individual of their entitlement as due, based on administrative inefficiencies, is totally unacceptable. This is a perennial shortcoming that has to be addressed where it exists within the public and private sectors.
Journalist Paul Donovan made some glaring observations regarding the dignity of work in the contemporary work environment. He noted that “while trade union membership has declined over the years, the pressure on worker’s job security, pay and conditions has continued to grow. Flexible work practices have come in with the globalized market. Pay has been squeezed, so the 1970s dream of a 25-hour week for all, with more leisure time for study and family never became a reality. Instead, workers have ended up working longer hours for less pay, with families often paying the price. Pensions are now under threat with the retirement age going up.”
This represents a serious commentary on the existing state in many jurisdictions, where demoralization and frustration have engulfed many employees. There are growing concerns about the attitude, service delivery, attendance and commitment of workers. The answer as to why this is the case, may be found in the fact that there continues to be a structural adjustment in capitalism, to ensure that ever-greater profits continue to flow to employers or owners.
The prevailing circumstances have created a problem for the trade union movement, which has now found itself between a rock and a hard place. Recognizing that job insecurity is a growing problem, that increases in wages and salaries are slow to achieve, and that job losses are rampant, trade unions are hard pressed to control the fall out in an effort to restore some dignity to work.
While trade unions continue their efforts to ensure that the dignity of work and workers’ rights are protected, they are confronted with the fact that the weakening of trade union collective power has been a significant part of this process. There is merit in this contention, given that there is erosion of union membership.
Despite all the employment rights labour legislation around, trade unions are challenged to some extent to police and fight against injustices which threaten the dignity of work and workers’ rights. The fact that the labour environment is so volatile, many employees are willing to ignore injustices, just for the sake of maintaining their employment.
Irrespective of the pressures being placed on trade unions, workers have a right and responsibility not to compromise the dignity of work, or allow their rights to be exploited.
Consistent with this assertion, there needs to be an explanation from the management of the Barbados Turf Club about the public random scanning of grooms and jockeys by security personnel at the starting gates, prior to the start of some horse races.
This action seems humiliating, demeaning and disgraceful. It requires an explanation as to why these workers are subjected to such treatment. It is an even more ugly sight to see a public search being executed by the security personnel on the saddle of individual horses at the starting gates.
Whatever are the reasons for this action, the authorities need to find a better way of conducting their security clearance outside of the public view. This is seemingly a glaring example where the dignity and rights of work is under the microscope.
(Dennis DePeiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc. Send comments to[email protected])