Region not doing enough to meet challenges of globalisation

by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
July 19, 2000

REGIONAL Trades Union umbrella body, the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) is not convinced that CARICOM, either collectively or from the perspective of each of its 14 Member States, is doing enough to sensitise its peoples to the far-reaching effects of new regional and global trade arrangements.

CCL General Secretary, Guyanese Mr George DePeana, said this was the standpoint from which the organisation, in collaboration with OXFAM (Great Britain and Canada) and the British Department for International Development (DFID), was currently conducting a series of seminars specifically for senior trade union functionaries within the region.

"We took a conscious decision to do this because we are not completely satisfied that either CARICOM itself or the member states were doing enough to adequately inform the population of the respective countries about the implications or the complexities that will follow the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSM&E)," DePeana told the Chronicle yesterday at the end of the second day of one such seminar now in train here.

The three-day caucus, which concludes today and had as its theme `CARICOM Single Market and Economy and other Related Matters - Challenges and Opportunities for Trade Unions', covered Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. It was held at the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) on Woolford Avenue in the city.

According to DePeana, one was held in Barbados for that island and countries within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and a third is scheduled for the northern Caribbean, which includes Jamaica, the Bahamas, Belize and Bermuda.

Noting that the absence of adequate information was likely to create "more problems than anything else", he said the whole idea was to provide participants with data that will assist them in understanding better the implications of the CSM&E.

It was intended, too, to use the forum to bridge the information gap on such matters as the Protocols which will govern the CSM&E as well as the challenges that will have to be confronted by the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Lectures also touched on the implications of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), due to come on stream in 2005, and the workings of the CARICOM Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM).

Lamenting the fact that people in the region, not only the man-in-the-street but even at the decision-making level, know little or nothing about the RNM much less about its role or its functions, DePeana contended that "too much is being kept to the breast of [the] Government". In relation to the imminence of the FTAA, he said "2005 may look like a long time but it's just down the road".

One of the many challenges he foresees the CSM&E posing for trade unions is how certain aspects of its Protocols will be implemented.

Protocol Two, for example, talks about the free movement of goods and services. He noted, however, that while CARICOM Member States have all agreed to introduce some amount of freedom of movement, it is still very limited, meaning that it is open only to people like university graduates, sportsmen and artistes.

He said the fact that this freedom of movement also applies to services, it means that companies can, and already are, operating in other parts of the CARICOM Caribbean.

What Protocol Two will do, he said, is to allow those companies to take along their managerial and supervisory people and their families.

But unfortunately, this same latitude does not apply to the lower echelon of staff and therein lies the problem which may in the long run have serious industrial relations implications due to the absence of harmonised labour Laws.

Again, he said, the coming of the FTAA "may very well subsume all of what is being done at CARICOM".

DePeana said the CCL could have held one big regional seminar but decided against it so as to have the widest possible participation. The idea was that participants will go back to their respective unions and try to impart what little they have learnt.

Noting that these were the kinds of positive things that the trade union organisation was doing, he said far too often people harbour the perception that all they are about is creating problems and being obstacles to progress.

For example, he said, just prior to the WTO meeting in Seattle last year, CCL ran a seminar on `Globalisation and its Consequences'. It also sent letters to the various Foreign Trade Ministers throughout the region indicating its views on the discussions that were going to take place in Seattle.

Recalling an observation he made at the opening of the seminar, DePeana said, "CLC has been around for 60 years and it is one of the earliest organisations that have been working on the linking of the peoples of the region".

"Others have come and gone," he said, "but we are still here. We aren't doing all that we can, owing to certain constraints, but we are doing our utmost to focus on some of the macro issues and to get the trade unions which are our affiliates to also focus on some of those issues to prepare themselves for the challenges that will come with these developments. Because if they don't, they will find themselves in a very serious situation."

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today