BU shares the Caswell Franklyn Nation newspaper column – he is the General Secretary of Unity Workers Union and BU Contributor.
To my mind, Government’s primary duty is to protect its citizens, and as an employer, […]
it must be ever mindful of its primary duty.
To this end, Government should be a model employer that sets the example for all other employers to follow.
However, based on my experience, I can safely declare, without sensible contradiction, that Government finds itself among the worst employers in this country. In the area of protecting its citizens who are workers, it is not even doing a half-decent job.
Before the Minister of Labour seeks to contradict me by citing the Employment Rights Act as an example of Government putting in place comprehensive legislation to protect workers, she ought to be reminded that the act has significantly increased the workload of the already overburdened Labour Department, and Government has not seen it fit to increase the staff complement by one. In addition, the composition of the Employment Rights Tribunal does not give the impression that Government wants the tribunal to carry out its mandate with alacrity.
As a result of Government’s negligence in this regard, it has allowed private sector employers to further abuse workers. I have sat at meetings where employers would admit that they were wrong and liable to compensate a worker who had been unfairly dismissed, but would then offer as little as 60 per cent of the worker’s entitlement to settle the matter immediately. They have been bold enough to suggest that if the worker rejected the reduced amount, they would allow the case to go to the Employment Rights Tribunal, where that process would most likely take two or three years before there is a decision.
That said, I would like to deal with an example of Government’s most shameful abuse of its own workers.
In the private sector, if a worker is indebted to the employer, in circumstances where the debt can be recovered from the employee’s wages, the employer is prevented, by Section 9 of the Protection Of Wages Act, from deducting an amount that would cause the total deductions to exceed one-third of the worker’s wages in that pay period. That act was passed in 1951 so that Barbados, as a colony of Britain, could conform to international best practice as set out in the 1949 Protection of Wages Convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Article 10, Paragraph 2 of the convention explains why there is an upper limit on the amount that could be deducted. It states:
Wages shall be protected against attachment or assignment to the extent deemed necessary for the maintenance of the worker and his family.”
On the other hand, when a public servant is required to repay a debt to the Crown/Government from his wages, public service managers unilaterally decide how much would be deducted. Sometimes workers go home with less than $100 per month, after the deduction is made. When it is pointed out to them that the deduction must not exceed one-third of the worker’s wages, in accordance with the Protection of Wages Act, they invariably say the act does not apply to the Crown. But is that really so?
Immediately after Independence, Barbados ratified 25 ILO conventions, including the 1949 Protection of Wages Convention. We need look no further than Article 2 to determine if the convention applies to public employees. Article 2, Paragraph 1 states:
This convention applies to all persons to whom wages are paid or payable.
I think that we can safely say that public servants are persons within the meaning of the convention. The only thing left to be determined is if the convention is in force in Barbados. For that answer, public servants need to be grateful to Shanique Myrie.
At Paragraph 54 of the judgment in her case, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the executive and judicial branches of the state must, if possible, give effect to the state’s treaty obligations.
In my view, the 1949 ILO convention and the 1951 Protection Of Wages Act did not originally apply to public employees, but they would apply after May 8, 1967, when our Government freely, and with eyes wide open, ratified the convention.
Government gives the illusion that it is protecting workers’ rights but actually the opposite obtains. We are even now hearing that they want to eliminate overtime pay for workers who earn as little as $250 per week.
Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers’ Union and a social commentator. Email: email@example.com