One of LALIT’s leading members Laval Yves, a construction worker, spoke at the LALIT gathering for May Day. He compared the nature of work 40 years ago with the nature of work today.
In the 1970’s, at the time of the August ’79 general strike movement, older workers say, there were thousands of construction workers employed on big sites, like General Construction. The State also employed 1,000 or so construction workers in the Central Housing Authority, and another 1,000 or so in the Development Works Corporation, a further 2,000 or more construction workers in other State-run sectors like the Public Works Department, the Water works, Telecommunications and Electricity.
Today, construction workers have to go and see a small contractor. He then engages you for a week. If you work well, are in good health, and seem reliable, on a big site he might take you on for a three-month contract. Then as the building or bridge or whatever heads towards completion, you know your contracts will be renewed for fewer and fewer weeks. Until, with the end of the construction site, there is the end of that series of little contracts.
So, you have to look for another small contractor, or wait for the first one to get a new contract. And so it goes on. There is no job security at all. You benefit from none of the advantages of an employed worker. Often even your National Pension Fund contributions are not made. So, listening to the speaker, one realizes that construction workers are really like indentured labourers of the 19th Century, only with shorter contracts and no housing thrown in.
But, he said, bad as contract work is, there is a lower level of construction work, with much worse conditions. These workers, often with less skills, have to turn up at a site in the hope of getting a job for that day. They are by-the-day workers. Their job security is nil.
So, Laval Yves concluded, one wonders when we greet each other on Labour Day, we should find a way of saying something other than “Bonn Fet Travay”, while we work at actually making work something we can celebrate!