Over the past 15 years, capitalism has taken a severe beating. The subprime crash in 2008 destroyed the idea of Apolitical money, saw interest rates fall to their lowest levels ever, loans of gargantuan proportions and lots of state aid. The system which was ‘victorious’ following the Cold War fell victim to the very foibles and failures that the men and women in the socialist world warned of.

The failure of capitalism on such a scale saw renewed and heightened interest in alternatives and workers getting restless as they sought to stay afloat. This resulted in severe backlash (on a global scale) against unions, laws regulating work safety and standards, and terms of employment as bosses sought to both stave off the nascent left-wing movement and make operating easier.

The attack on worker rights is a global issue and one which is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is an issue which is not alien to us here in Jamaica with the global rights index highlighting in 2022 that worker rights in Jamaica are routinely violated. They focused particularly on the BPO sector which enforces a policy that bars workers from unionising as well as the domestic help industry which is rife with abuse.

The abuse and winnowing away of workers’ rights is not relegated to those industries and as has been highlighted by various unions has bled into other industries which now treat employees as contract labourers. The assault has taken many fronts, but the most recent front it has opened has been against redundancy payment and as they have put it issues with firing workers.

Speaking in front of the Prime Minister, who has shown himself sympathetic to the cries of the business sector, Mr Kerr-Jarrett called for the government to review the redundancy act, claiming it is onerous on businesses and hinders the workers’ ability to be trained for future work.

Well thank goodness Mr Kerr Jarrett has the plight of the worker on his mind, it is good to know that as he seeks to take away redundancy payments, he is at least doing it so they can be reskilled.

His argument on the face of it makes no sense and is at the heart an attack on workers, simply calling for the ability to fire workers with as little hassle as possible. This move has not come from nowhere, and it follows international trends where countries have bowed to industry and taken away the rights of workers.

He states that this is a hindrance to companies, implying that the cost of these redundancies is a drain on resources that could be used elsewhere. This is disingenuous, most people losing their jobs are at the low end of the pay scale, in fact, it often is made up of people being replaced by machinery. This is the lowest of the low-paying jobs, minimum wage, or a bit above that. If these massively profitable companies cannot afford the redundancy payment for them then they have bigger issues and shouldn’t be in business.

The confusing part of his statement is that the redundancy payments act as hindrances to workers getting upskilled. Now I don’t know if he is aware but institutes like HEART while free to access require material much of which has to be purchased by the student. In other words, in order to upskill one needs money to do it. Bus fare or gas, lunch, uniform and its upkeep, and materials all need to be acquired in order to upskill and that ideally is where the redundancy money for the newly unemployed person will go.

To survive between jobs while upskilling one will need money, which ideally again the redundancy payment would be going towards.

It boggles the mind that this man could in good faith call for the amending of laws governing redundancies unless one understands that his interest is not in the workers doing well but in the bottom line of his company. Worker interests are hindrances on these, that is why contract labour has become so fashionable as one has a worker with none of the burden that is regulation.

Unions have been sleeping on the job while those who own the means of production and capital are theorising and vocally calling for worker and workplace reform and statements like the ones uttered by Mr Kerr-Jarret reflect a business class that is both emboldened and flush with cash.

The squeeze on workers will continue to be felt, the talk around importing workers will not be simply relegated to fields that are specialist and will in the end be used to bring in labour at exploitative rates to depress the pay rates.

This is not some rabid anti-capitalist thought but the logical conclusion if things continue along this path. If one were serious about cutting the deficit of skilled labour, industry would be making it easier for workers to upskill. Instead, we have industry calling for the scrapping of redundancy payments as they currently stand.

With workers facing the real prospect of their jobs becoming obsolete in the next 10 years as technology continues to improve, now is not the time to even begin thinking about reducing or otherwise negatively tampering with the redundancy laws. What companies and the state should be doing is looking to train and certify the workers especially those in positions which will no soon longer exist.

More protections, the creation of actual welfare programs, and more training that is what is needed, and none of those will be achieved through the slashing of redundancy payments. If businesses cannot operate without state intervention or the constant abuse of workers they should not be in operation, and if they are serious about the importance of upskilling, they should train their workers.

The Prime Minister should ignore the advice so publicly offered by Mr Kerr Jarret but based on his past actions he may very well listen and implement such a suggestion. Unions and other organisations sympathetic to workers must rise to the challenge and push back against suggestions of further weakening the position of the worker.

The pushback by workers, unions and other organisations sympathetic to them has worked in other countries and there is no reason why it cannot work here. We have a government which has shown it buckles to public pressure, this is the time to demand more protections for the workers and not after the heads of industry have already got what they want.

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