Construction workers get new wage rates; unions want wider coverage

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CONSTRUCTION workers who fall under the Joint Industrial Council (JIC) have received a pay increase of 11 per cent per 40-hour week over the period of a new labour agreement, which expires in 2021.

The increase, which became effective on February 1, however, is limited to those workers employed by contractors who are members of the Incorporated Master-Builders Association of Jamaica (IMAJ), and who are represented by the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), the National Workers Union (NWU) or the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

The JIC is a tripartite body, comprising the three trade unions, building contractors who are members of the IMAJ, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) which provides the chairman and facilitates meetings of the JIC.

The JIC workers received a six per cent pay increase this year, with a further five per cent increase scheduled for February next year in their hourly rates for a normal 40-hour work week lasting over five days. They are also paid a number of allowances, including overtime rates of time-and-a-half for working extra hours Mondays to Fridays, and double time for Saturdays and Sundays.

Other allowances include: height pay; depth pay; working in water pay; over water pay; subsistence allowances; and night premium.

But, while the trade unions on the JIC have expressed relief that they have concluded the wage talks, and the new contract is in operation, without any fallout, they are still concerned about the fact that thousands of other workers in the industry have no such agreement, and are often paid below those rates.

Workers emloyed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) have staged several demonstrations complaining that they do not receive most of the benefits included in the contract, nor are they paid the JIC hourly rates. They have also demonstrated against the lack of working gears.

Vice-president of the BITU Alden Brown, who spoke on behalf of the trade unions at the signing of the contract recently, expressed disappointment in failing to get local and foreign contractors who work outside these arrangements, including those from China and Spanish speaking countries, from joining the JIC.

Brown recalled some of the issues which he said continue to influence the relationships between the workers, the contractors and the unions, and said that he hopes that with the support of the master builders and the ministry, they could make some progress on these issues during the period of this contract.

“For years, we have observed that there has been a calculated avoidance of recognising the collective labour agreement between the Incorporated Master-Builders Association of Jamaica and the unions representing the workers in the construction industry,” according to Brown.

“This, we believe, represents a blatant disregard for established industry standards. We note also that the Government has observed the established rates for the construction industry, as seen by their inclusion in municipal corporations and Government contracts. And so we are of the view that these rates ought to be gazetted,” Brown stated.

However, he felt that if the Government wants to assist in getting the other contractors on board, it should gazette the agreement and make it compulsory.

“For too long workers are denied double-time pay for work done on Saturdays and Sundays. For too long workers have been denied height and depth pay. For too long, workers have been denied sick leave and holiday with pay. These practices, by those who fail to observe the JIC agreements, have deprived these workers of NIS and National Housing Trust benefits,” Brown insisted.

Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson told the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives, who were reviewing the 2019/20 budget at Gordon House, that she could not force contractors to join the JIC or the IMAJ; she could only urge them to do so.

Questioned by Opposition MP Dr Dayton Campbell on the issue during the budget review, the minister insisted that those are voluntary actions.

Dr Campbell asked whether this meant that the Government was unable to protect construction workers who were outside the range of the JIC, but the minister said there are a number of things which her ministry can do, but not forcing the employers to join the IMAJ.

“We cannot force any contractor, any investor, to join the master-builders. At this time, it is purely voluntary,” Robinson noted. She also pointed out that as an MP she uses her bargaining skills to ensure that constitution workers in her constituency are paid the best possible rates.

Robinson said that it would be ideal for all contractors and their employees to fall under the JIC, and the Government could urge them to do so, but there was no law to force them to do so.

Robinson told the Standing Finance Committee that her ministry’s jurisdiction is to ensure against the payment of wages below the national minimum wage in the industry.

She conceded, during an exchange with former minister and current Opposition spokesman on labour Horace Dalley, that as minister she not only encourages the contractors to pay the JIC rates, but also to become members of their association masterbuilders association.

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