August 23, 2022
…a different sort of Labour Day
May 15-23 is Workers’ Week in Jamaica, and Tuesday May 23 is Labour Day –a public holiday. Each year, Government asks us remember the struggles of Jamaican workers, especially the labour unions. The usual focus on workplace safety and health has been sharply underlined this year by the recent boiler pump explosion at a RIU hotel in Montego Bay. One worker was killed. Four others were hurt, one of them badly enough that he was flown to Miami for burn treatment.
The hotel was closed for a couple of days while the Fire Brigade and technical staff from various Government ministries and agencies investigated the cause of the explosion. There were the usual expressions of condolence and concern, but workers will find little comfort in Local Government Minister Desmond MacKenzie’s statement that “everything is being done to ensure that the personal safety and other concerns emerging from the incident are balanced with the need to drive continued economic growth through tourism, which is Jamaica’s main foreign exchange earner”.
We are asked to spend the Labour Day holiday doing something for the benefit of the community and the nation. Safeguarding local and national monuments will be the focus of activities for Labour Day 2017, under the theme 'Restore, Preserve, Beautify', with emphasis on two national projects: the Ward Theatre and the Central Police Station in Kingston. Eighteen other police stations across the island will also benefit from restoration work.
As part of this year's celebration, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport (which is actually coordinating Labor Day activities) has partnered with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to plant 155,000 trees. Minister Grange explained that each year, on May 22, Jamaica joins the world in celebrating International Day for Biological Diversity. She said this year NEPA will launch its 'Million Tree Challenge', which encourages Jamaicans to plant one million trees by June 30, 2019.
Community cleanups are a traditional part of Labour Day, and the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is adding some motivation to the effort. Its photo competition, open to community groups, service clubs, schools, and non-government organizations island-wide, offers cash prizes for before-and-after pictures of Labour Day cleanups. The contest is a tie-in with the Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica Cleanup Network, launched in March.
Every municipal corporation will get a $250,000 government grant for Labour Day projects, but there is little joy in this for environmental groups like the Marine Park Trust. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that “Jamaica has not yet been able to make the link with the environment as an important priority”. Government wants to make managing the environment a part of its prosperity agenda but “volunteerism will have to play an essential role”.
The nation’s environmental managers are between a rock and a hard place. A clean healthy environment isn’t a luxury. It may be a matter of life and death. But it has no place in Government’s funding lineup, and Government has no money anyway. So we’re on our own and it’s time to stop complaining and go to work. Labour Day is a good time to start.