The Global State of Workers' Rights - Jamaica
|Publication Date||31 August 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Jamaica, 31 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4fc7fbc.html [accessed 30 January 2015]|
Jamaica's trade unions emerged in the 1930s, and their leaders and members played significant roles in forming the two main political parties once the country gained independence from Britain in 1962. Today, trade unions are generally able to function without government interference. Approximately 20 percent of the 1.2 million Jamaicans in the workforce are unionized. The Labor Relations and Industrial Disputes Act of 2006 states that workers have the right to create and join trade unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and prevents employers from firing workers solely because of their union membership. Individuals face large fines if they are found to have dismissed, penalized, or discriminated against a worker who exercises his rights to participate in union activity.
The right to strike is not explicitly guaranteed or denied by law. Strikes do occur, however, and labor activism increased in 2008 and 2009 as workers protested wage cuts, salary freezes, and layoffs. Workers who strike do not face criminal liability but risk losing their jobs. The Ministry of Labor can intervene directly in labor disputes to end strikes. When management and labor fail to reach an agreement, the case is referred to an independent Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), and unresolved cases then move to the civil courts. On average, the IDT handles 35 to 40 cases each year.
The right to collective bargaining can be denied in cases where unions fail to meet set targets for worker representation. And while domestic labor laws apply to export-processing zones, there are no unionized companies in any of the country's three publicly owned zones. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, foreign-owned companies often establish employer-controlled workers' councils to handle grievances, but these lack the ability to negotiate wages and working conditions.