The finances of this country appear to be so bad that Government seems to be scrounging around to collect money, that in some cases, is not owed. Over the last several months, I have been inundated by calls from public officers about Government unilaterally deducting money from their salaries. In a majority of these cases, it is my view that these officers owe nothing.
On a regular basis, officers have been confronted with letters informing them that their extensions of sick leave on full pay were granted in error, and that they were only entitled to half pay and in a few cases no pay. The letters would then go on to say that the overdrawn salary would be deducted in set amounts over a period.
Even if the officers owed the money, and I contend that they do not, there would have been no prior consultation to determine how much they could comfortably pay back. At times officers find it impossible to make ends meet with what’s left. In one case, an officer was left with a net salary of $182 for the month.
In the private sector there is specific legislation that regulates how much money an employer can deduct from the wages of workers. Section 9 of the Protection of Wages Act, Chapter 351 of the Laws of Barbados states:
9.(1) An employer may deduct or stop from the wages payable to a worker under any contract of employment in respect of the following –
(a) the actual or estimated cost to the employer of any materials, tools and implements supplied by the employer to the worker at the latter’s request to be employed by him in his occupation; or
(b) any money advanced by way of loan by the employer to the worker, whether paid to the worker himself or to another person at the worker’s request in anticipation of the regular period of payment of his wages.
(2) A worker may assign a part of the wages payable to him under any contract of employment.
(3) The total amount which may be –
(a) deducted or stopped from the wages of a worker under subsection (1);
(b) assigned by a worker out of his wages under any contract of employment pursuant to subsection (2); and
(c) attached under any law,
shall not, in any pay period, exceed one-third of the wages of the worker in that pay period.
Some may be quick to say that the act does not bind the Crown, (that is a fancy way of saying that the legislation does not apply to Government). But for as long as I can remember, it has been Government policy that public workers would be treated no less favourably than their counterparts in the private sector.
Even so, Government became a signatory on May 8, 1967 to the Protection of Wages Convention of the International Labour Organization. And clearly that convention applies to Government workers. Article 2 paragraph 1 of the convention states:
This convention applies to all persons to whom wages are paid or payable.
Article 10 paragraphs (1) and (2) are also relevant in this case. They state:
(1) Wages may be attached or assigned only in a manner and within limits prescribed by national laws or regulations.
(2) Wages shall be protected against attachment or assignment to the extent deemed necessary for the maintenance of the worker and his family.
When Government deducts this so called overdrawn salary leaving a worker with a mere $182 to maintain that worker for a month; it is a clear violation of the solemn international commitment it has made.
Further, as discussed in a previous column, there is nothing in the law that allows Government to grant an extension of sick leave on anything other than full pay.
I would like to extend condolences to the family of the late Volta Lowe. I attended her funeral service and was heartened by the numbers from all walks of life who took time out to pay their final respects. Hers was a life dedicated to serving others. She was a tireless community worker who gave faithful service in everything that she did. Rest in peace my friend.