Labor Force and Industrial Relations

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

The labor force in 1985 consisted of some 1,042,000 persons, or less than half of all Jamaicans. The level of employment stood at 787,700 or 75 percent of the labor force, allowing for an official unemployment rate of 25 percent. Sixty-one percent of the registered labor force was male. Almost 15 percent of the work force was regarded as part-time, defined as those working fewer than thirty-three hours per week; of that total, 60 percent were women. According to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the most numerous category of employed persons fell under the title of "own account workers" or self-employed persons, representing 43.5 percent of the total work force. They were followed by blue-collar workers (25.4 percent), white-collar workers (17.7 percent), and service workers (13.1 percent).

As in other Commonwealth Caribbean nations, unemployment continued to be a pressing economic, social, and political issue. Throughout the first six years of the 1980s, unemployment remained at or above 25 percent despite emigration. Women under twenty-five years of age made up over 65 percent of those without work, whereas men over twenty-five experienced only a 9.7-percent unemployment rate. Whereas in United States unemployment statistics only job seekers are considered as members of the labor force, Commonwealth Caribbean countries include nonseekers as part of the labor force as well. If job seekers only had been included in the 1985 unemployment figures, the unemployment rate would have been 13 percent. Because of the prevalence of underemployment and disguised unemployment, however, many economists feel that the Caribbean method provides the most accurate measurement.

Organized labor has played a central role in both the economic and political development of Jamaica since the earliest days of self-government. By 1985 there were over fifty active trade unions on the island dominated by two large unions, BITU and the NWU (see Historical Setting, this ch.). The BITU, the predecessor of the Jamaican Labour Party, was established in 1938 and consisted of over 100,000 workers in the 1980s. The NWU, closely affiliated with the PNP, was established in 1952 and reached a membership as high as 170,000 in the mid-1970s. In 1985 over 30 percent of the labor force was unionized, with the overwhelming majority in the BITU and NWU.

Throughout the first half of the 1980s, Jamaica averaged roughly 600 industrial disputes a year, including 80 to 90 annual work stoppages. Unlike the labor disputes of the 1970s, which were characterized by greater wage demands in manufacturing and in mining, strikes in the 1980s were most often over public sector lay-offs (the service sector). Work stoppages numbered 83 in 1985, a fairly typical number, causing the loss of 110,457 man days. Labor strikes and disputes also occurred as a result of violations of various labor acts, such as the Minimum Wage Act, the Holiday with Pay Act, and the Act of Women Employment. Industrial disputes were generally administered through the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) of the Ministry of Labour. IDT decisions were binding with the exception of an appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress