FORMER Cabinet minister and trade union leader Dwight Nelson died peacefully yesterday morning after ailing for some time.
Nelson who was 72 years old, died at home in Barbican, St Andrew. He is survived by his wife, Angella (Pat), and several children.
At the time of his death, Nelson was deputy chairman of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), the Government’s main labour relations arbitration panel. However, in the past, he served as a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) member of the Senate, minister of national security, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), and senior vice-president and island supervisor of the JLP-affiliated Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.
Nelson is best remembered in labour relations circles as the trade unionist who partnered with then Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Omar Davies in the historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government and the JCTU, initiating a wage restraint policy for government workers which has continued into today’s public sector pay negotiations.
The MOU, which initially lasted from April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005 restricted the public sector’s pay increase to three per cent, a development which was acknowledged as giving the then People’s National Party (PNP) Government, led by Prime Minister P J Patterson, the breathing space to recover from a debilitating economic crisis which followed the FINSAC meltdown of the late 1990s.
However, Nelson would eventually face his political deluge when, as minister of national security in the JLP Administration of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding in April, 2010, he came under fire for his handling of several issues related to the extradition case involving Tivoli Gardens “don” Christopher “Dudus” Coke, which ultimately led to the premature fall of that Government.
Nelson lost in his attempt to be elected to the House of Representatives in the general election of December 2011 when he lost to the PNP’s Julian Robinson by a margin of 4,260 (41 per cent) to 6,004 (58 per cent).
Golding, reacting to his death yesterday, related in a statement that his friendship with Nelson dated back 60 years, starting with their first meeting as new entrants to St George’s College in 1958, as classmates and endured to the end.
He said that Nelson was an outstanding trade union leader, mentored by former Prime Minister and BITU President Hugh Lawson Shearer.
He said Nelson played a significant role in broadening the membership of the union to include clerical, supervisory and management workers, and later as minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.
“His performance in the role was of immense value, especially at a time when our fiscal arrangements had been severely impacted by the global financial crisis,” Golding said.
Golding also noted that he had lost “a friend and colleague”, and expressed condolences to his widow and family.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted yesterday that Nelson not only served in his Cabinet, but was also chief of staff at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition during his tenure between December 2011 and February 2016.
“He was a true friend and someone who was always willing to give of himself in the service of the country,” Holness concluded.
Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips said that as much as he was aware of Nelson’s illness, his passing came as a shock to him and his party, “as he had been active at the IDT, up until recently”.
Phillips said that Nelson gave “sterling service to the Jamaican working class for over 50 years as a trade unionist, industrial relations adviser, deputy chairman of the IDT, and politician”.
“For his service to Jamaica, Dwight will be greatly missed, particularly in the trade union movement where his intellect and negotiating skills were highly respected and on both sides of the negotiating table,” Dr Phillips added.
President of the BITU Senator Kavan Gayle noted that Nelson had been his mentor at the union since he joined the staff in 1986.
“He taught me most of the things that I learnt at the union, and he was the consummate trade union expert, in terms of collective bargaining, and was well respected across the Caribbean,” Senator Gayle said, noting that the union has been receiving numerous letters of condolence from trade unionists across the region who have held him in high esteem over the years.
Head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute Danny Roberts said that Nelson’s passing has signalled the end of an era in Jamaica’s labour and industrial relations praxis.