A true servant of the people

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding has described late Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson as one of Jamaica’s most dedicated political representatives ever and a person who demonstrated an “uncompromising commitment to the rights of workers and genuine compassion for the pensioners and the elderly”.

Robinson, who died at her home in St Ann last Friday after a long battle with cancer, was a member of the Cabinet during Golding’s tenure as chief executive, serving as minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister in 2007, after which she was given responsibility for local government in July 2011 before being appointed minister of state in the Ministry of Transport and Works in that same year.

Golding’s was among a flood of tributes paid to Robinson, who represented the St Ann North Eastern Constituency for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) since 2001 when she pulled off a massive upset for the then-Opposition party, defeating the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Carol Jackson by 473 votes to become the second Labourite to win the seat in 14 elections since Universal Adult Suffrage came into effect in 1944.

Describing Robinson as a true servant of the people, Golding said her passing has “taken from us one of the most dedicated political representatives Jamaica has ever seen.

“It was a joy and inspiration to walk with Shahine through North East St Ann and see how she interacted with her constituents. She was never too busy to stop and listen; no problem was ever too big for her to tackle or too small for her to take seriously. She competed with her constituents to see whether they loved her more than she loved them”.

Pointing to what he said was her “sterling service as minister of labour and social security”, Golding said Robinson provided “effective leadership, uncompromising commitment to the rights of workers and genuine compassion for pensioners, the elderly and the most vulnerable in our society who are always at risk of being ignored or left behind”.

He said while she will be sorely missed, “her memory will never fade and her legacy of service will remain a template for those present and in the future who commit themselves to serving the people”.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange, in her tribute, described Robinson as her “dear sister and friend”.

She said while Robinson’s death was not unexpected, it still hit “like a tornado”.

“Shahine Robinson was quiet and unassuming, but she was very effective,” Grange said.

“Over the past 20 years, we have walked a political journey in which we matched strides in reaching a common destination and achieving a common goal. We wanted to see a better way of life for our constituents, the people of Jamaica, and particularly the women of this country.

“When Shahine came to Parliament in 2001, after what is still one of the biggest political upsets in Jamaican history, she joined me as the only female on the Opposition side. She became my little sister.

“Having directed the public relations aspect of her campaign, I knew her very well and I knew what she had to offer,” Grange said.

She described the Immaculate Conception High alumna as “a gentle and kind soul who gave dedicated service to the people of North East St Ann” as their Member of Parliament.

“Shahine led with her heart, whether she was handling constituency affairs or leading a ministry. She did every duty with passion and compassion for the welfare of the most vulnerable. Her passionate advocacy on behalf of the poor will always be remembered,” Grange said.

“I could readily call on Minister Robinson for support in any area of her portfolio responsibilities,” Grange added.

“Shahine will be sorely missed in the Cabinet, in the Parliament, at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and in her beloved North East St Ann, where the people became part of her family.

“Shahine, my sister, I will always love you. You are forever in my heart. You have served well and now your work is over. Sleep in peace and may the angels guide your path as you transition to a better place.”

Ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks said Robinson, “operated and represented Jamaica with admirable grace and passion while so ably representing the affairs of our Jamaican farm and hospitality workers serving across the United States.”

Marks added: “History will record the indelible mark that Shahine Robinson has left on Jamaica’s political, social, and labour landscapes, in particular.”

Michael Stern, chairman of JLP’s Area Council Three, recalled that Robinson catered to her constituents “with laser like focus” which resulted in the love they have for her.

“Since wrestling the seat from the PNP in 2001, she steadily increased the margin of victory in each successive election. This was a direct result of her charisma and hard work,” Stern said, adding that Robinson was a people person who “knew every nook and cranny of her constituency”.

He also described her as a well-organised leader who passionately served as an executive member of the Area Council.

“We will miss her fervour, her connection to the ordinary man and her expertise under the most trying of circumstances. We extend sincerest condolence to her family and other loved ones. May her soul rest in peace and perpetual light shine on her.”

The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), which was founded by the JLP’s founder Sir Alexander Bustamante, also paid tribute to Robinson.

Senator Kavan Gayle, the union’s president general, said in Robinson’s 19 years as a Member of Parliament, the BITU found her to be a “tireless advocate for her constituency on a whole and for all the workers therein. Any issues that workers in her constituency had she would take on personally and fight vigorously for their issues to be resolved”.

He said this passion for representation resulted in Robinson developing a rapport with trade unions and she sought their advice and assistance in several industrial relations matters affecting her constituents over the years.

“She saw first-hand the injustices suffered by many workers and constantly encouraged them to seek union representation long before being appointed to the labour ministry,” Senator Gayle said.

“In her four years as minister of labour, the BITU found that Mrs Robinson brought not only a fresh perspective to the ministry, but consistently approached matters with an open mind and fairness,” Gayle said, adding that she demonstrated a fresh approach and willingness to hear all contending views.

He said the BITU was extremely grateful to Robinson for bringing forward the Occupational Safety and Health legislation to Parliament. “It is because of her effort that the Occupational Safety and Health Act is now before a joint select committee. Prior to her, it sat languishing in gestation for many decades,” Gayle said.

Additionally, the BITU expressed gratitude to Robinson for seeing to the establishment of a Western Division of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal to ensure easier access to justice for workers from western Jamaica.

“The entire BITU family mourns Minister Robinson’s passing in a very personal way, especially as she had taken the time to spend a day with us exactly a year ago in celebration of the union’s 80th anniversary,” Gayle said.

“We express deepest condolence to her family, her extended political family to whom she had deeply endeared herself, and our colleagues at the Ministry of Labour who are as devastated by this as we are.”

In its tribute, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) said, Robinson “served the people of Jamaica with grace and quiet fortitude for decades”, both in her role as Government minister and as Member of Parliament for St Ann North Eastern.

“She was respected by all, regardless of political persuasion, and will be remembered for her steadfast representation of her constituents,” the PSOJ said. “We extend our deepest sympathies to her family, colleagues and constituents and the wider membership of the Jamaica Labour Party.”

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