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Labour Agreement

Historic labour agreement in Jamaica

Shipping Association and labour unions sign four-year pact

The Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) and unions representing Jamaican stevedores have signed what the SAJ has described as ‘an historic four-year wage agreement’.

In a statement issued on 26th July, the SAJ said this was the first ever four-year labour agreement signed at the Port of Kingston.

“Traditionally, wage agreements between the SAJ and the unions were for two-year periods,” the SAJ stated. “However, the negotiators on both sides said that their discussions took into account the state of the Jamaican economy, the recent IMF agreement, the country’s reliance on a growing shipping industry and the widening of the locks in the Panama Canal as well as plans for the establishment of a Global Logistics Hub.” 

The agreement was negotiated at sessions of the Joint Industrial Council for the Port of Kingston. Port workers were represented by the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the United Port Workers’ and Seamen’s Union (UPSU). The SAJ represented the employers in the shipping industry. 

The new heads of agreement cover the period from November 2012 to October 2016.

Significant

According to the SAJ statement, news of the historic four-year pact was warmly received by the Government of Jamaica. The Minister of Transport and Works, Omar Davies, said the new agreement was significant for several reasons:

“The first is that its duration will provide the Port of Kingston with the requisite industrial peace and stability to plan for growth and expansion over the medium term. At the same time, it demonstrates that the workers and their union representatives have fully grasped the challenges which face not only the shipping industry but more so the country.”

The Minister of Labour and Social Security, Derrick Kellier, said the new agreement was of “critical importance to the overall development of the Port of Kingston, which constitutes an important part of the economic life and development of Jamaica. It is without a doubt of strategic importance to the overall success of the Jamaican economy.”

The chairman of the Port Authority of Jamaica, Noel Hylton, reportedly described the signing of the agreement as a remarkable achievement. He said he was fully aware of the tremendous work and effort which had guided the harmonious negotiations.

According to the Port Authority chairman (and the first Executive Vice President of the CSA), the historic agreement supports the Port of Kingston’s reputation as one of the most stable ports in the world.

“I believe it is noteworthy to mention that there has been no fundamental labour dispute at the port [of Kingston] in over 35 years, which is a commendable feat,” said Mr. Hilton. “Undisputedly, the Port of Kingston enjoys the best labour relations environment in Jamaica and I must express my gratitude to all the stakeholders who have contributed to the maintenance of this status quo.”

Right thing to do

Alvin Sinclair, vice president of the BITU, said (according to a SAJ report) that the four-year agreement was the right thing to do considering the international situation that faced the shipping industry, particularly the opening of an expanded Panama Canal in 2015. It would allow Jamaica to position itself to take advantage of the benefits that would likely flow from the expanded canal and in addition would send a signal that Kingston as a port was stable and that industrial relations were good.

The SAJ statement quotes the labour leader as saying that the workforce expected that whatever benefits accrued from this agreement would be shared through incentive schemes and other benefits.

Roosevelt Walker, union officer for the other labour union in the negotiations, UPSU, was satisfied that the agreement had been reached at local level without outside assistance.

“I think this reflects the maturity of the Joint Industrial Council,” said Mr. Walker. “This four-year agreement provides a stable and predictable environment at the Port of Kingston.”

The Shipping Association’s general manager, Trevor Riley, who served as chief management negotiator, said that management and the unions had realised for a long time that they had a shared interest in the port’s prosperity and that this agreement would serve to position the port for its expansion into a logistics hub. 

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