Underlying the ILO’s work is the importance of cooperation between governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations in fostering social and economic progress. Dialogue amongst governments and their two “social partners” promotes consensus-building and democratic involvement of those with vital stakes in the world of work.
Social dialogue can mean negotiation, consultation or simply an exchange of views between representatives of employers, workers and governments. It may consist of relations between labour and management, with or without direct government involvement. Social dialogue is a flexible tool that enables governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations to manage change and achieve economic and social goals.
The ILO is the only “tripartite” United Nations agency in that it brings together the three social partners of representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape labour standards, policies and programmes.
At the same time, the ILO helps governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations establish sound labour relations, adapt labour laws to the changing economic and social environment and improve labour administration. In supporting and reinforcing employers’ and workers’ organizations, the ILO helps to create the conditions to effectively contribute to the social dialogue process.
Social dialogue in the Caribbean
Social dialogue has been a part of the Caribbean industrial relations culture for decades, yet needs to be consistently embraced for dealing with issues at the workplace and in social and economic decision-making processes. Since the 1990s, the region has moved beyond the realm of industrial relations to developing social partnerships through the use of social dialogue in many other areas. In April 1995, the CARICOM Declaration of Labour and Industrial Relations Principles was adopted. That was followed by the adoption of the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society in 1997. This Charter provides for, inter alia, a role for the social partners in decision-making processes and constitutes one of the foundations for participatory democracy.
At the national level, the government and social partners of Barbados successfully negotiated a social partnership by the signing of the first Protocol in 1993. The first Protocol and the four subsequent Protocols expanded from macroeconomic objectives to encompass the responsibilities and obligations of the social partners in national development. Other national attempts at social partnerships include The Bahamas and its tripartite forum (TRIFOR), the establishment of a Social and Economic Council in Suriname in 2009 as well as sectoral partnerships in Jamaica.
The value of social dialogue is increasingly being recognized by Caribbean countries and this is reflected in the number of ratifications of the ILO Convention on Tripartite Consultations, 1976 (No. 144). Twelve Caribbean member States have ratified the Convention, with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines being the latest country to ratify in November 2010.
In an attempt to strengthen dialogue at the level of the enterprise, the ILO, through its Programme for the Promotion of Management-Labour Cooperation (PROMALCO), developed tools and guidelines for joint problem-solving and building cooperation based on trust and openness. The project, which was implemented from 2001-2005, was regional in scope and laid the basis for possible application at the sectoral and national levels.
The ILO Office for the Caribbean continues to assist in the organization of national and regional tripartite events on labour-related topics thus promoting social dialogue in concrete terms. Such events have included the Tripartite Caribbean Conference to discuss the global financial crisis and its social and labour dimensions (Jamaica, April 2009) and the Caribbean Development Bank-ILO Tripartite Caribbean Symposium to discuss economic and labour market recovery responses to the crisis, based on the ILO's Global Jobs Pact (Barbados, January 2011).