Independent trade unions are democratic, self-organizing institutions of working people wishing to advance their rights and interests as workers and citizens. Despite the denial of the right to organize in many countries, the international trade union movement is the world’s largest and most representative organization based on voluntary membership. Trade unions are important social actors in the labour market and key civil society institutions in most democratic countries. In the Caribbean, trade unions have been in existence since the 1920s and have been instrumental in obtaining social advances across the subregion as countries transitioned from dependent colonies to politically independent states.
In a globalized world, the challenge of securing decent work, safe and healthy conditions of work, living wages, social security, gender equality and fair income distribution calls for the active participation of trade unions as partners in social dialogue at the workplace and at the national level. Workers’ organizations, along with employers’ organizations and government, have a key role to play in achieving better global governance and the universal application and enforcement of international labour standards.
The ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) cooperates with trade unions at the national, regional and international levels. ACTRAV assists them in protecting workers’ rights and interests, in providing services to their members and in being an effective voice for working people and their families through the promotion and implementation of international standards. ACTRAV’s programme is carried out through the ILO field offices and aims to develop and strengthen trade union education programmes as well as strengthen the capacity of workers’ organizations to respond to the new challenges posed by a globalized economy.
National trade union programmes supported by ILO/ACTRAV have covered many areas including: fundamental principles and rights at work, decent work agenda, gender equality, HIV/AIDS, occupational safety and health, child labour, social dialogue, conciliation and disputes resolution, and collective bargaining. At present the ILO Caribbean Office, in collaboration with UN Women (previously UNIFEM), is scaling up its support for domestic workers’ unions to organize, mobilize and develop a network to contribute to the efforts to obtain decent work for domestic workers throughout the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). Other specific activities for Caribbean workers' organizations supported by the ILO at the subregional level have included:
- Subregional Workshop for OSH Focal Points on Trade Union Action in the Area of Occupational Safety and Health, Barbados, 22-26 March 2010;
- Subregional Workshop for Child Labour Focal Points on The Role of Trade Unions in the Fight Against Child Labour, Barbados, 17-19 August 2009;
- Caribbean Conference on the theme " Developing a Caribbean Workers’ Trade Union Agenda for the 21st Century", Trinidad and Tobago, 14-16 May 2009;
- Regional Training on Trade Unions and the Informal Economy: Policy Issues and Organizing Strategies, Barbados, 1-4 December 2008;
- ILO-CCL Round Table for Caribbean Workers’ Organizations to discuss “Globalization, Regional Integration and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA): the Social and Labour Dimensions", 23-25 May 2008 in Barbados;
- Subregional Workshop on Developing Campaigns for the Ratification of ILO Conventions for Trade Unions in the Agriculture and Hotel Sectors in the Caribbean, 5-7 March 2007; and
- Distance Training Programme on Information Technology and the Internet from January 2005 through December 2007 with workshops and certification held in December 2005 and 2007.