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Saturday, January 14, 2006 

Regional unions want to playbigger roles in their societies
Friday January 13, 2006 - Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, N.A.

PHILIPSBURG--Issues affecting workers in the region, globalisation, more involvement in the decision-making process of their respective governments through social dialogue, and areas of cooperation were among the list of items discussed by trade union representatives from Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis and St. Maarten during a one day “brainstorming summit” at Windward Islands Federation of Labour (WIFOL) building on Thursday.

Union representatives at the meeting agreed that the role of unions was no longer limited to representing workers, but should also involve social dialogue and involvement in the decision making process of their respective territories.

During the summit, which was held on WIFOL’s invitation and financed by that union’s training arm Caribbean Institute for Social Education Foundation (CISEF), the trade union representatives exchanged views and opinions on various subjects.

Alluding to the issue of migration and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), WIFOL President Theophilus Thompson told reporters during a press conference yesterday that numerous changes were taking place within the English- and Dutch-speaking territories resulting from migration, for which trade unions should be prepared.

The issue of solidarity among regional unions was also an item on the agenda of Thursday’s meeting.

Visiting union representatives were General Secretary of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union Stafford Joseph, First Vice President of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union Peter Leonard, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Trades Union Congress Maurice Christian and President of the St. Kitts and Nevis Trades and Labour Union Ernest Wigley.

Thompson said invitations had gone out to many other trade unions, but the others had not responded. Also involved in the discussions was President of St. Maarten Communications Union (SMCU) Stanley Lint.

Joseph said the information gathered at the forum would be passed on to other labour organisations and trade unions had to help set new guidelines in politics, industrial relations, culture, social ethics, education and communication. He said too that unions had to “put policies in place, set agreements and develop strategies,” to provide proper representation to workers in the region and play a bigger role in the region.

“We may be small countries, but must start thinking big. Whatever we do must be done in solidarity. As small islands we can affect change through solidarity.”

Leonard expressed similar sentiments, noting that regional unions could no longer focus solely on defending the rights of workers. “We have to look at all aspects of their daily lives.” He said too that unions had to embark on a massive campaign to make workers aware of the benefits of being unionised, especially as more and more employers were informing workers that unions were not needed.

Christian said trade unions should seek to obtain better recognition from governments and employers. Underscoring the importance of education for workers, he said trade unions were no longer receiving financing to carry out important initiatives in the area of education, for example.

Wigley said Thursday’s discussion was important for the future of trade unionism, while Lint said workers should be included as social partners and should be more involved in the decision making process of governments through, for example, sitting on the boards of government-owned companies. Lint also underscored the importance of educating workers.

A follow-up meeting will be called among the trade union representatives in the future, Thompson said.

Copyright ©2005 The Daily Herald

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