Trade unionist against election during pandemic

Trade unionist against election during pandemic

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, August 13, 2020

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PRESIDENT of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) Vincent Morrison says he is opposed to a general election in the midst of the country's struggle with the COVID-19 crisis, but that the organisation would support any party which prioritises the rights of the Jamaican worker.

“I cannot say with all certainty that I welcome the decision to hold a general election at this time. The fact is that we have up to February next year, and I think that what we should be doing as a country – both political parties – is trying to unite the Jamaican people around or against issues such as COVID-19, and getting the Jamaican people to put their shoulders to the wheel to put the national economy on a more stable, stronger, and a more predictable footing,” the veteran trade unionist told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced September 3 as the date for the country's 18th general election.

Morrison, who unsuccessfully contested a seat for the now Opposition People's National Party in the February 2016 General Election, said it is the first time since 1944, when Jamaica had its first general election, that the people will be going to the polls in the middle of a raging pandemic. He said all efforts should be focused on overcoming COVID-19.

“COVID is not going anywhere, and the fact that COVID has affected every country in the world is going to mean that our national economy is going to take longer, and it's going to be harder to recover,” he stated. Morrison said a general election has never been held with so many people out of work and industries operating below optimal levels of production.

“For example, in the sugar and agricultural sectors, the sugar industry has been devastated totally, and except for one factory, when the crop resumes next year, we will have virtually no industry, which means that well over 40,000 workers will have no job unless Government intervenes and takes control of the industry so that we can prevent the suffering that is going to take place in an industry that runs across 32 constituencies,” he stated.

Morrison said the union was also concerned that tourism is still struggling, and remittances, which has been a key source to the economy, is going to be affected going forward. “So I don't believe that [it is] the right decision to call the election now, I don't think our planners have sat down and looked at the situation,” he remarked.

Notwithstanding, he said, UCASE will support the political party which it believes has the interest of the Jamaican workers at heart, and will focus on issues of immediate concern, such as those surrounding contract work. “The individual contract situation is slavery. The security guard will tell you that it is slavery. We have workers in the bauxite and alumina sector who are operating under that arrangement and they will tell you it's slavery,” Morrison said. The situation with security guards has, however, been going on for decades.

According to the UCASE president, the current Administration has failed to tackle many of the issues affecting the Jamaican workers, such as occupational health and safety. “We cannot believe that Parliament was dissolved and that Act [Occupational Health and Safety] is still not dealt with; we were told that every effort would be made to deal with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. There are a number of Bills in Parliament that the Government has failed to deal with,” he lamented.

Morrison also drew attention to the labour relation issues in the construction and business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors and the long-standing proposal for a joint industrial council to help resolve those issues and conflicts.

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