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We must work together

This is the text of Economy Trade and Industry Minister Senator Kim Wilson’s speech at Labour Day.

Today is particularly significant for me as this marks my first Labour Day as Minister responsible for Labour ... and oh what a baptism by fire it’s been!

But yet I’m thankful, because today is a day that we come together to celebrate the contributions of all workers. Indeed ... “The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

Brothers and Sisters, Labour Day is one of the best known and oldest celebrated holidays around the world. For over 100 years the first Monday in September has included parades, picnics and most importantly, a day off from work to celebrate the collective contributions of all workers.

You see, I don’t have a problem with change ... but let’s celebrate with the workers today as we advocate for change in the meantime.

And as we celebrate today, let us not forget individuals like the father of the labour movement, Dr EF Gordon ... the mother of the movement, Dr Barbara Ball ... and other pioneers who carried on their vision ... individuals like Brother Ottiwell Simmons ... my colleague the Hon Derrick V Burgess ... and my grandfather, Robert Austin Wilson, who blazed a trail for not only the union, but in our family as well.

It was my grandfather the late Robert Austin Wilson, trade unionist, who instilled in me a spirit of advocacy and a character of discipline, dedication and commitment. It was at his feet where I came to understand the core principles of trade unionism.

So Brothers and Sisters when I consider this year’s Labour Day theme, Sustaining Trade Unionism I recall the principles that our forefathers held dear pride in self, pride in workmanship and equality among all men.

You see I understand the struggle it was about equality, better working conditions, and fairness.

Trade unionism grew out of a group that banded together to achieve common goals. The leadership bargained on behalf of the rank and file to negotiate labour contracts. It sounds simple today but we know that the journey was long and hard. Battles were fought and won. We sit here today as beneficiaries of the struggle.

The question is why was it so significant? Why was it so successful?

I submit today, that it was because it was relevant. Tactics including downing tools and withdrawing services were powerful motivators for employers who were building an economy. It was significant because it was relevant. It was successful because it was relevant. This is what our economy needed to grow up.

But, Brothers and Sisters, it’s a new day today. The economy has moved on.

Sustaining trade unionism means making it relevant for today’s economy. I’m not talking about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The core principles are the same.

In this small 21 square miles, we need to rely on each other more than ever if we are to climb this seemingly insurmountable hill. The times that we are living in have changed significantly. This is not our parent’s economy nor is it our grandparent’s economy.

This is our economy and our workforce and if we are to successfully navigate it and get people back to work then we need to address the problem differently. We will need to be innovative and collaborative in our approach, setting aside egos and agendas for the common cause of supporting those members of our community who are facing hardship. Indeed: “The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

And so in order to remain competitive in our global economy, employers working with unions will need to fully utilise the economic potential of all their employees.

Those employers, who fully invest in their employees, by providing them with the skills they need and empowering them to perform their jobs in the workplace, will gain a competitive advantage and be better positioned to continue to provide employment. Unions have an important role to play today, and in the future, in ensuring a harmonious working environment.

If unions are to ensure their longevity then there are a number of factors that will have to play a part. We must hold true to the principles that unions were founded upon.

We must also recognise that labour relations should be conducted in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Employees, unions and employers all have a vital stake in maintaining workplaces that are productive and competitive, emphasis and resources should be placed on solving problems and resolving issues rather than on conflict and confrontation.

Let me be clear, I am not knocking union tactics, but I sincerely believe that unions need to be more practical in how they approach disputes and disagreements. I am a firm believer that there is no problem that is so tenuous or difficult that it cannot be solved with our jeopardising the reputation of this tiny little Island and our delicate economy. Not everything has to be contentious.

Brothers and sisters, the rancour that we’ve experienced these last few weeks has caused us all to pause and wonder aloud ... how do we move beyond this point? In order to sustain our unions now and into the future we must operate on a playing field of mutual respect, cooperation and support.

Brothers and Sisters, now more than ever we need to remember that: “The ties that bind are stronger than the ties which divide us.”

Our strength as a country is dependent upon us all working together in an effective and productive manner.

Finally, as I wind down my remarks today, I want to leave you with a few parting words as it relates to today’s celebration.

Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) once said, “Labour Day differs in every essential way from other holidays of the year in any country … Labour Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”

The underlying philosophy of Sam Gompers is that the observance of Labour Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of you the workers. It is a national tribute to the contributions you have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our Country.

Labour Day celebrates the joy and satisfaction that comes from hard work and constant commitment. The sense of a good job done, a day well spent and the pride of accomplishments are also reflected in this celebration.

We labour for the love of the job, the sense of satisfaction of work well done and the commitment to make a better world for our children.

I encourage you to go to your respective jobs and give every ounce that you have. Take pride in what you do and go above and beyond to ensure that the customer is satisfied, that the economic engine churns, and that you do your part to help get your fellow Bermudians back to work.

Brothers and Sisters, the maintenance of good order, discipline, efficiency and proper conduct is essential to Bermuda’s reputation.

And I am of the belief that every employee has a duty to their employer and to their fellow Bermudians to preserve the highest standards in all aspects of work and behaviour.

To those here today, quite simply you must continue to do your part and commit to being responsible, innovative, respectful and hard working members of our workforce. And when you see someone not giving their all, you have a responsibility to address them and show them the right way in how it’s done.

To the unions, yours is an all important role, we salute you today for the work that you have done, are doing, and will do in the future on behalf of the worker. Make your work count make it relevant!

Brothers and sisters, it has been my singular honour to address and pay homage to you today.

You are the lifeblood of this community and today our country is a better place because of your sacrifice and dedication and that of workers all over this Island.

Be blessed and be encouraged.

The Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Senator Kim Wilson

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Published September 07, 2011 at 10:11 am (Updated September 07, 2011 at 10:10 am)

We must work together

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