Workplace anti-discrimination policies essential for poverty reduction - T&T Employment Analyst By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
August 31, 2003

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`If our road to empowerment is uneven, it stands to reason that our path to development is highly suspect.’ Roodal Moonilal

EMPLOYMENT analyst from Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Roodal Moonilal, believes that any strategy to reduce poverty must have as a central pillar the implementation and enforcement of workplace anti-discrimination policies and laws.

He said the elimination of discrimination at the workplace is essential if the values of human dignity and individual freedom, social justice and social cohesion are to go beyond formal proclamations.

“We are also reminded of the fact that the failure to eradicate discrimination helps perpetuate poverty,” added Moonilal, an employment analyst who specialises in Caribbean Labour and Industrial Relations and a former Minister in the Ministry of Labour in Trinidad and Tobago

“At a time when there is global concern with halving poverty by 2015, we must ensure that discriminatory practices are removed from our local labour markets in the fight against poverty,” he said last weekend during his feature address delivered at the recent triennial Congress of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) which was held in Corentyne, Berbice.

According to Moonilal, discrimination in one form or another occurs in the world of work every day, throughout the world. Yet, employment is the highest form of empowerment, he pointed out.

“So if our road to empowerment is uneven, it stands to reason that our path to development is highly suspect,” Moonilal asserted.

He also referred in his address to the 2003 Global Report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) titled ‘Time for Equality’, where the ILO defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, or social origin which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity and treatment in employment or occupation”.

The report points to the fact that those who suffer from discrimination face a persistent “equality gap” which divides them from dominant groups who enjoy a better life and unfair access to state goods and resources.

Again we understand that link between inequality and discrimination, he said.

The global report concludes that discrimination is a common problem at the workplace. Yet, the progress in fighting discrimination has been irregular, even fighting long recognised forms of discrimination such as discrimination against women, Moonilal posited.

He noted that other findings of this recent report are very informative, such as the fact that inequalities within discriminated groups are widening.

According to him, discrimination at work often traps people in low paid “informal” economy jobs.

He said, too, that the ILO reports that discrimination is a “moving target”, in that the more we seem to make formal declarations of equality and equal opportunity, the more the monster changes its head and re-merges.

Moonilal said the most prevalent forms of discrimination are those done on the basis of sex and race.

We also observe the phenomenon of “multiple discrimination” whereby persons are entrapped in two or more categories prone to acute discrimination, he added.

Moonilal also gave a brief profile of the Guyanese labour market which revealed that the labour force participation rate has declined from about 60 per cent in 1992 to 57 per cent by 1997.

He said in terms of gender, the ratio for the male labour force declined while the female labour force held constant.

He said, too, that the leading economic sectors for employment absorption in Guyana are agriculture, hunting and forestry, commerce and manufacturing. Agriculture, he said, absorbs over 30 per cent of the employed labour force, while commerce trails in second with 16 per cent.

“It is significant that as the employment level in the central government declines in the aftermath of the state socialist policies, the finance, insurance and real estate sector has been a key job creating sector,” Moonilal stated.

These new jobs can be expected in the private sector, with higher level entry requirements than that which obtains in the public service. In terms of occupations, 33 per cent of the employed population can be found in elementary jobs, with 21 per cent in production, and a mere two per cent as professional and technical workers.

Moonilal also indicated that over 40 per-cent of workers are self-employed in Guyana, compared to about 16 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago.

He said the challenge is clearly to “re-build the stock of human capital with massive investment in education and training”.