[ARANGUEZ, 18 June 2021] — We are all aware of the devastating impacts on lives and livelihoods around the world, as a result of measures taken to address a global Pandemic that is well into its second year. Truth be told, the pandemic has also exposed existing structural problems in many countries, including Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), such as extensive informality, deficiencies in education and skills training, weak social protection systems, and economic and social inequalities.

The result was a health crisis turned into an economic and humanitarian disaster.

In the world of work, deficient labour systems and related legislation were exposed, as well as outdated business models. As tripartite partners scrambled to find ways of responding, and surviving, we saw significant increases in unemployment and business inactivity, loss of jobs, reductions in business and Government revenue and new challenges with health and safety at work. More than this, a fundamental shift in systems of work has taken place and is now more apparent than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the arrival of the future of work, characterised by rapid changes in technology, introductions of various forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and new work arrangements. The way we structure and organise business and work must also change, for employers and trade unions. There is no going back to where we were prior to the onset of COVID-19.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic still to be overcome, and as we continue to struggle with survival, we must begin to rebuild now. To respond in a meaningful way, focus must be placed on a human-centred approach to recovery. This, more than any other time in our history, calls for strong, competent and futuristic-thinking leaders, who are driven by responsibility and not by reward or self-interest. The ECA, therefore, renews its call for greater cooperation, collaboration and a commitment to act with urgency to seize the opportunities, and address the challenges in the world of work, in building a better society that is fair, inclusive and fully productive. A future of work that values labour – not as a commodity – but as an integral and valuable contributor to achieving the sustainable economic and social development that we all hope to achieve, through the implementation of agreed-upon elements of the recovery process. A future of work that recognises the important role of sustainable enterprises as generators of employment and promoters of innovation and decent work, and free from the tentacles of gender-based violence and harassment.

Now is the time to address longstanding flaws in our systems of labour, business, education, social security, and gender equality and inclusiveness, that continue to hamper productivity and the realisation of decent work for all. Now is the time to embrace social dialogue, in all its forms, to pursue greater social cohesion and productivity at the individual and organisational level. It is the only means towards a sustainable end.

On this Labour Day, we celebrate with the labour movement and recognise the significant achievements that have been realised through persistence and collective effort. In doing so, we encourage this same type of collective contribution and commitment as we fight as a nation to achieve a better future. Let us bequeath to posterity a legacy of survival, and in keeping with the central theme of the 2021 International Labour Conference of the ILO, together set a firm foundation for building forward a sustainable future for all of Trinidad and Tobago.


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