by Emmanuel Joseph
The attorney-general and the island’s largest trade union are to investigate reports of some employers calling out workers today, even before the official all-clear was given by the State, following the passage of Tropical Storm Chantal.
After announcing the all-clear while speaking from the Department of Emergency Management, Attorney-General Adriel Brathwaite told the country he would be seeking advice from the solicitor-general as to what the law had to say on employers making such requests.
Brathwaite said he was not clear on whether it was legal for an employer to insist or require their employees to report from duty while the country was still in official shut down mode. However, he suggested that from a moral point of view alone, any such request was a “no-no”, especially considering that the “boss” would be putting the worker’s life in danger.
It is understood the “unidentified” employers were even offering to have the employees picked up from home.
General-Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union, Sir Roy Trotman, told Barbados TODAY via telephone from Trinidad that he was unaware of any specifics regarding the report. However, Sir Roy promised to carry out an investigation into the matter when he returned to Barbados.
“If a country is put on alert, it is to secure life and limb. Therefore, all responsible citizens should be ready to join in supporting this. It would seem strange that any employer would call out a worker,” the veteran trade union leader declared.
“We would not expect any employer to call out any worker, unless it is an emergency service. When I come back, I would investigate the matter.”
General-Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers, Dennis Clarke, told this newspaper, he was not aware of any law or policy that addressed the issue. But Clarke said he knew personnel in the emergency services could be called out in such circumstances and where transportation was not available it would be sent for them. The NUPW leader argued that even where the all-clear was given, it was a worker’s choice to leave home, depending on the level of risk or danger in his area, particularly if public transport was unavailable.
“I would be taking a risk if it was still raining with the possibility of flooding. That is going over board (by employers), to ask a worker to come out if they were putting themselves at risk. They can’t do an employee anything if they don’t come out,” reasoned the union general-secretary. “That is an unreasonable position to be taken by any employer.”
To clarify such an issue, he is recommending the introduction of guidelines which state “as long as danger exists, an officer should not be asked to come to work”.
In fact, the NUPW’s chief administrator said he did not believe workers should be requested to report for duty if the all-clear came late in the day. “Considering how some employers are behaving these days, there needs to be guidelines to clear up this matter,” Clarke asserted.
Executive Director of the Barbados Employers Confederation, Tony Walcott, informed Barbados TODAY this afternoon, he could not find any legislation which supported or rejected employers requiring employees to report for duty, even before an all-clear was given.
“Once the country was under storm warning and except where a person was working in an emergency service, they should not be expected to go to work,” Walcott suggested.
President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Lalu Vaswani, was of the view that “we need to have more heart, than art”.
Vaswani also argued that while businesses had to make decisions in their interest, equal consideration also had to be given to the safety of its workers. He felt that even where employees were returning to work, they should do so with caution and not put themselves in jeopardy. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry head advised that there was need to follow closely, the guidelines of national policy in emergency circumstances such as the passing of Chantal today. He was of the opinion, that workers had a responsibility also to communicate with their employers regarding their availability during such times.