This Barbados Advocate editorial attacks the issue of abuse of labour laws by employers. What does this bode for the state of the trade unionism in Barbados the people’s representative.
– Barbados Underground
Apart from the current disenchantment felt at the official effort to outsource some of the operations of the Sanitation Service Authority to private independent contractors and consternation at the nettlesome issue of the abuse of fixed term contracts by local employers to the detriment of workers, the local labour movement would have recently found a sympathetic ally in the person of the Honourable Minister of Labour, Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo.
According to the lead story in last Tuesday’s Barbados Advocate, the Minister revealed that her Ministry has been receiving reports from workers that their employers are not complying with their obligations under relevant pieces of legislation, including the 1976 Employment of Women Maternity Leave Act and the two most recent enactments; the Safety and Health at Work Act and the Employment Rights Act respectively. Indeed, she shared with the audience at a recent Occupational Health and Safety seminar that some of the complaints have been made directly to her office, although she appropriately instructs the worker in question to make his or her complaint to the Labour Department.
That a worker should make a complaint of this nature to a Cabinet Minister demonstrates not only the near-reverential awe in which these individuals are held by some members of the public, but also the existence of a lacuna in the agenda of the local workers’ organizations who should be ready sources of competent advice in these matters, and the failure and inutility of the state machinery established to treat with and redress such complaints.
For instance, under section 102 of the Safety and Health at Work Act 2005, the employee is afforded a statutory immunity from dismissal if he or she should request an inspection of the workplace by an inspector from the Labour Office. In this connection, we were surprised to learn in the report that the Labour Minister had revealed in the same address that “an inspectorate has been put in place to follow up on complaints”.
So far as the Employment Rights Act 2012 is concerned, each of the several rights therein guaranteed, whether entitlement to an accurate written statement of particulars, to an itemized pay statement, or to a certificate of employment record, is accompanied by a detailed procedure for its vindication, most times through a complaint via the Chief Labour Officer to the Employment Rights Tribunal. The paucity of matters heard so far by that body signifies a need for a quicker, more effective means of dispute resolution if disadvantaged workers are not to be become disillusioned.
Perhaps in a concession that current penalties for labour offences are dated and therefore inadequate, the Minister promised to put even more dissuasive penalties in place. One glaring example of this may be found in the penalty for an offence under the Trade unions Act , Cap 361, section 40A, where the punishment for adversely affecting an employee on account of trade union membership or activities is a maximum fine of $1000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both. This is so, despite the fact that right being infringed here, the individual freedom of association for trade union purposes, is one recognized by major international human rights and international labour law instruments, inter-regional state undertakings, and one that even finds a presence in out Constitution as a guaranteed fundamental right.
We should think that a fine of a mere $1 000 (since a sentence of imprisonment is highly unlikely in any event) for the denial of such a fundamental freedom by a private entity is trifling at best and should be significantly increased.