16th March, 2010
I write to you asking you to bring attention to a matter involving the Unemployment Work Assistance Programme (not to be confused with the Government’s new six months programme) at the Department of Social Services (DSS). For decades, this Programme has been a source of contention at the DSS and while it was originally intended to be a temporary programme, it has evolved into a work scheme hiring hundreds of Bahamians.
The staff is of the opinion that by its very nature, this programme is discriminatory and denies workers equal pay for equal work in defiance of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Employment Act 2001.
Under ILO discrimination occurs where rules or practices appear on the surface to be neutral but, in practice lead to exclusion. Equality at work means that all individuals should be accorded equal opportunities to develop fully the knowledge skills and competencies that are relevant to the economic activities they wish to pursue”. The right to equal remunerations and equality of work or non-discrimination (employment and occupation) are among the core labour standards and considered fundamental.
Persons on the Work Programme have limited access to credit, particularly credit which allows them to have things which the majority of Bahamian labourers strive to achieve such as homes, adequate food, health care and medical insurance, post secondary education for their children etc. These things are not luxuries but necessities to the comfort and well-being any individual in this society. However, at present, the current programme which pays a salary of $210.00 per week without increments or annual salary increases denies the worker equal access to these things, in essence keeping them poor and limiting their ability to adequately provide for themselves and their families.
The very fact that these workers have an inferior employment contract in comparison of other persons employed by the Government is evidence of discrimination as it treats them differently than other workers they receive less in the form of remunerations and security of tenure (10 Principles of the UN Global Compact). It is also noted that “employees who experience discrimination at work are denied opportunities and have their basic human rights infringed”. There also exists indirect discrimination which exist informally in attitudes and practices, which if unchallenged can perpetuate in organizations (UN Global Compact). It is seen as the one manifested in organization where discrimination against those form a lower socio-economic group is tolerated, and the injustice seen as a necessary cost effective measure. Consequently the programme is als exploitative as it “involves a persistent social relationship in which certan persons are being mistreated or unfairly used for the benefit of others. These workers are being shortchanged and disadvantaged for the benefit of the Government.
What is also interesting is that the management of DSS takes shelter in the fact that they are managers of this programme and can do little to change it but, they can advocate to make it better, they can restructure the programme so that workers have better benefits, salary increase and access to credit. However, they can rationalize but, their positons as leaders and supposedly person of goodwill makes them culpable. As Erasumus Darwin stated “he who allows oppression share the crime”.
The workers are lobbying to be regularized so that they may enjoy the full benefit of their labour and are able to enjoy the same standard of living as other persons employed by the Government. What the Work programmers what is justice and equality and we hope you will use your investigative skills to bring attention to our matter or at least ensure that this letter is published. We are simply asking you to help us.