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Caricom human rights treaty in the making

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GEORGETOWN GUYANA MARCH 27: Work has begun on a Caricom Human Rights Treaty, which will succeed the Charter of Civil Society and will be a legally binding document on which the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) can base judgements.

Specialist on the Movement of Skills/Labour at the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) Unit in Barbados, Dr Stephen McAndrews, told local senior and junior trade unionists that the treaty was as the result of a noted need to have a binding document in the region on human rights and labour laws harmonization.

Speaking at a workshop at the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Woolford Avenue, under the theme 'Harnessing the Regional Resources for the Benefit of its People', McAndrews said that rights from the charter would be incorporated into the treaty, which is still in its early stages. McAndrews said the charter, adopted at a special meeting with the heads of government in Trinidad, in October 1992, is non-binding even though regional governments have pledged to adhere to the rights therein. But he said that at present, the CCJ could take into account what is mentioned in the charter, when ruling on labour issues.

The charter deals with workers' rights, for example, on full and adequate employment, social security policies, the right to earn a wage that offers a decent living, collective bargaining, to foster and promote a good working environment and cross-border mobility of labour among other areas.

McAndrews said the key issue for all social partners is to avail social partnership development, since if producers of goods cannot compete in a globalised world those producers will close and this will affect workers. He said productivity needed to be ensured but all parties will have to observe the right to human dignity.

Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooper-ation, Clement Rohee, in his opening address stated that the same western powers which advocate globalization are taking protective measures to protect certain industries and are "afraid of globalization... it is making them shake in their boots." For example, he said that the European Union (EU) is seeking to block Chinese shoes from entering their markets, in a bid to protect shoemakers there from the cheaper Chinese made shoes.

The developing world has such concerns with good reason. To this end, Rohee said that the Regional Development Fund is to be developed to assist those economies in the region that will have to make structural adjustments to accommodate the CSME. The EU plans to provide support to workers who will lose jobs as a result of globalization, by way of setting up a fund.

Rohee said that in light of the CSME, Guyana has removed 42 restrictions that dealt with work permits so that Caricom nationals can work in Guyana without work permits.

The minister noted that Guyanese seeking to work in the region should be allowed to do so hassle free in the light of the CSME. Labour laws in the region will have to be harmonized, according to the minister, to ensure that workers receive the same treatment across the region.

The minister also said that Guyana's position was that all workers should be recognised under the CSME to move freely in the region. "We do not want the CSME to be elitist. We want all the categories."

There is a proposal to allow free movement of all by 2008, but this proposal is yet to be agreed to by heads of government.

The CSME Unit is responsible for regional labour issues and has a key interest in educating workers.

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