Former Ministry of Labour industrial relations chief dies

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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GRESFORD Alexander Smith, a former director of industrial relations at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has died.

Smith died at his home in Westmoreland on Sunday at the age of 72 after a prolonged illness, which followed surgery last October for a spinal injury.

He retired as consultant/supervisor at the ministry in April. He had served as industrial relations director between 1981 and his retirement from that post some years ago. However, he stayed on at the ministry as an adviser/consultant to several ministers, including Pearnel Charles, Derrick Kellier and current minister, Shahine Robinson.

He was regarded as the last of the highly respected trio of directors who ran the ministry's conciliatory machinery through the volatile 1970s and 1980s, which also included Everrett Parchment and Anthony Irons.

He was also regarded as the most valuable industrial relations conciliator since the retirement of Irons, who held the positions of industrial relations director and eventually permanent secretary at the ministry under Portia Simpson Miller.

Prior to joining the ministry, Smith served in senior positions at the St James and St Mary parish councils.

“He made the Ministry of Labour his life,” Smith's widow, Sonia Russell Smith, told the Jamaica Observer last night. He is also survived by six children.

Executive member of the Jamaica Employers' Federation and Director of Human Resources at the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Bernita Locke praised Smith for being “a true industrial relations practitioner” and for providing “unbiased guidance to both employers and the trade unions”.

“His ability to mediate is unquestionable. I recall on more than one occasion he sat at the table from 10:00 am to 3:30 am and never gave up until the parties settled the claim, shook hands and went home,” she recalled.

“The labour movement has lost a true stalwart. May his soul rest in peace and light perpetual shine on him,” Locke added.

Two union leaders, Vincent Morrison, president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Personnel, and Ruddy Thomas, vice-president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, also recorded condolences at his passing, yesterday.

Morrison recalled Smith as an “outstanding conciliator and a dedicated public servant”.

“His knowledge of a wide range of labour legislations and the practices and history of industrial relations matters gave him an advantage in assisting in interpreting industrial relations issues critical to both employers and the trade union movement,” Morrison said.

Thomas said that Smith's experience and knowledge led him to recognise that effective labour-management peace requires more than just an “eleventh-hour” appearance at the bargaining table by conciliators.

He said that Smith recognised the need for mediators to detect danger signals arising from poor labour-management relationships.

“And when he was involved at the collective bargaining table, he made reasoned judgements after examining the issues and assessing each side's internal relationships, and verified these impressions through in-depth private discussions with both parties,” he added.

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