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The ILO In The Caribbean


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International Labour Standards

The ILO in the Caribbean: its objectives and activities:
Promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work


The subregion is politically divided over the issue of labour conditions in WTO agreements. Most governments and the employers are opposed to a sanction approach, while unions appear to favour it. Trust in the fairness of multilateral agreements is low, in particular, in the light of the banana issue, which the countries of the subregion interpret as favouring the interests of the rich countries. However, by actively seeking the revival of the US Caribbean Basin Initiative, countries had to accept bilateral labour conditionalities stipulated in the new Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act and the possibility of a politically motivated siding with the US position on the social clause is not to be discarded.

On the other hand, the Caribbean countries have willingly responded to the ILO call for the ratification of fundamental labour standards. Many countries see the need for such ratification not so much because they would have a problem with any of the fundamental labour standards, but because they understand that globalization requires a framework that would protect them against undue competition on the basis of unfair labour practices. Their strategic interest in the recognition of fundamental labour standards is that they offer a protection for their own vulnerability and hold the potential of an upward harmonization of labour conditions to which they aspire.

Beyond the fundamental standards, owing to the relatively strong union influence in this region, ILO standards are well respected and ratifications are an ongoing issue, often dealt with in the framework of tripartite committees. ILO standards do provide the principal reference for the formulation and revision of labour legislation, including at the level of CARICOM which has adopted a declaration that enshrines a commitment to ILO standards and which has formulated a series of model labour laws.

The ILO contributes to the successful realization of this strategy in the following ways:

  • Promoting the follow-up to the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
  • Reinforcing the recognition and the application of international labour standards
  • Enhancing the capacity of the tripartite constituency to live up to the obligations that go with the ratification of these standards
  • Generating a capacity and commitment to actively contribute to the formulation and revision of ILS so that ILS are perceived as reflecting the countries' own aspirations to set benchmarks and not as an imposition
  • Offering assistance in the formulation and revision of labour legislation
  • Persuading enterprises to bring management practices in line with ILO's fundamental labour standards and to accept ILS as social benchmarks.

Highlights of activities

  1. The subregional project Promotion of Management-labour cooperation (PROMALCO) which is funded under the USDOL/ILO Declaration programme started operations in November 2000. The project is geared to promoting freedom of association and collective bargaining at the enterprise level.

  2. Leading Caribbean business and union leaders, academics, and government officials met in Port of Spain in January 2001 to review and discuss approaches for labour-management cooperation. This took place within the framework of the 1st Caribbean Enterprise Forum which also examined best practices in the Caribbean promoted enterprise strategies that linked fundamental labour standards, decent work and enterprise competitiveness. This was the first activity under the USDOL funded project on the Promotion of Management - Labour Cooperation (PROMALCO).

  3. In May 2001, the Office, in collaboration with Enterprise, HQ, conducted a one day consultation with 10 leading Caribbean-based multinationals and larger corporations on the Global Compact. The meeting resulted in suggestions for ILO management training on the Global Compact.

  4. ILO desk Officers received a training/refresher course on ILO standards and procedures at a sub-regional workshop organized in Port of Spain in March 2001. At the workshop, technical advice and assistance was provided on country-specific issues and problems related to reporting obligations. The aim was to improve the quality and timeliness of government reports to the ILO and government participation in ILO standards-related activities.

  5. Trade union officials in Guyana and Suriname participated in a workshop on ILS in November 2001.

  6. At the beginning of 2001, within the framework of IPEC, ILO/CAMAT began implementation of a child labour country programme for Jamaica. The programme is building on the work already initiated by revising the existing programme proposals, taking into account the findings of the Rapid Assessment on Child Prostitution undertaken in 2000, and assisting in establishing the institutional framework for a National Steering Committee. Among the first major activities under the programme are three baseline studies in three key areas - fishing communities, tourism and the informal sector. These studies began in May 2001.

  7. The ILO also coordinates the production of a child labour survey for Belize.

  8. The Office has recently received approval for a CIDA funded project on the Identification, elimination and prevention of worst forms of child labour in the Anglophone and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. The project will contribute to the elimination of the worst forms of child labour in the English and Dutch speaking Caribbean by developing the sub-regional capacity for the promotion and effective national implementation of policies and programmes that give effect to Convention 182. Preparatory work has commenced.

  9. Throughout all of 2000 and into the first half of 2001, the Office has been providing assistance to the Government of Saint Lucia in the drafting of a new labour code. The draft document was delivered to the Government in April 2001 and a tripartite meeting to discuss the draft was held in May 2001.

  10. Employers in Trinidad and Tobago participated in a one-day seminar in November 2000 on key aspects of new labour law.

  11. The Office, in cooperation with the ILO Standards Department conducted a major sub-regional seminar to promote ILS (Bahamas 1999).
  12. During the Labour Ministers meeting and during missions by the standards specialist, the importance of ratifying fundamental labour standards was raised.
  13. A sub-regional seminar on child labour stressed the importance of ratification of C.182.
  14. The Office created a capacity to develop a child labour programme (two-year post), which has facilitated cooperation with the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). Subsequently, funds were made available to Belize and Jamaica for survey and assessment activities and a national project for Jamaica was developed.
  15. The ILO developed a position paper for a CARICOM workshop that dealt with the role of fundamental labour standards in the framework of WTO and the regional negotiation machinery for the FTAA and the EU. It also spoke on the relationship between international labour standards and trade to a UWI meeting on the WTO and its impact in Jamaica.
  16. Assistance was provided to countries in meeting its reporting and other standards-related obligations, including direct assistance to desk officers in several countries and a national training session for staff of the Ministry of Labour and Cooperatives in Trinidad and Tobago.
  17. The ILO facilitated the development of Caribbean position papers concerning the items on the agenda of the 2000 ILC and assisted delegates to the ILC.
  18. In national seminars in Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname, trade unions are being trained to participate more effectively in the standards-related activities of the ILO, including preparing comments on draft international instruments, understanding better the content of fundamental Conventions, participating more effectively in their implementation, and knowing how to use the supervisory mechanisms of the ILO.
  19. The ILO also assisted the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) by providing technical input for seminars in Barbados and Guyana that promoted ratification of ILO standards.
  20. The standards specialist also made presentations to meetings of employers' organizations on fundamental standards and the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
  21. The ILO is assisting Saint Lucia in formulating a new labour code, which implements ILO Conventions and addresses shortcomings in law noted by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. In addition, ILO standards and principles have been the basis of recent advice given to the Governments of the Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica concerning revisions in labour law. The Government of Guyana is being assisted in drafting regulations under the Safety and Health Act. These activities are expected to lead to increased ratification of ILO Conventions.


There was a considerable increase in the number of ratifications of fundamental labour standards throughout the region and more ratifications are being announced. It appears possible that the target of achieving ratification of all fundamental labour standards by all Caribbean countries could be reached by 2001. Committee of Experts reports reflected improvements in submissions and reporting. In the region, the importance of developing a policy position on labour standards and the social clause, in particular, is growing. The interest on the part of the tripartite constituents in participating in the standards setting process and in developing a Caribbean perspective for them has increased.

Copyright © International Labour Organization (ILO) Caribbean Office and Multidisciplinary Advisory Team
Phone: (868) 628-1453; Fax: (868) 628-2433

Created: November 2000 by SJ. Last updated June 2001 by SJ.


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