National Workers’ Week – Trade Unions In Jamaica

Sir Alexander Bustamante, the father of Jamaica’s trade union movement

We are currently observing National Workers’ Week in Jamaica, and Labour Day is coming up later in the month of May. This month is significant in Jamaica’s history with regard to workers’ issues. For instance, the local trade union movement came out of the labour riots of 1938. The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), the oldest and largest multi-industry trade union in the Caribbean, was born on May 23 that year.

A trade union is a defined group of employees formed for the purposes of representing the interests of themselves and their colleagues with the employer. Trade unions often advocate for better wages, work condition and benefits. They also campaign for laws and policies which will benefit working people.

Chapter 3, section 13 of the Jamaican Constitution provides for the freedom of association and section 23 provides for the freedom of assembly and association. These sections do not expressly refer to the trade union movement, but they protect the rights of citizens in this regard.

Trade unions in Jamaica have a strong alignment to politics, as the two largest groups, the aforementioned BITU and the National Workers Union (NWU) are historically affiliated with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), respectively. The BITU is named in honour of its co-founder Sir Alexander Bustamante, who founded the JLP in July 1943 as the political wing of the union. On the other hand, the NWU was founded on April 2, 1952 by PNP members following a split within the Trade Union Congress. Future party leader and Prime Minister Michael Manley became the Sugar Supervisor of the new Union in 1953.

Trade unions

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– Important labour laws