A yet undetermined number of private sector jobs are being put at risk by the proposed Holiday with Pay Bill, according to the umbrella agency of private sector organizations in Barbados.
Local businesses are warning that if the Bill goes to Parliament in its current form and is passed, their costs will rise, forcing them to send workers home.
Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Alex McDonald said the businesses have been reluctant to cut jobs despite tough economic conditions over the past several years.
However, he said the proposed legislation was likely to send them over the tipping point.
“The Barbados business community has for seven, eight, nine years been holding and holding and trying with its union partners . . . to maintain its job levels, and even in the worse recession that we have ever been in, to have the level of employment that we do . . . we have held our part of the bargain,” McDonald said at a media conference today following an urgent meeting of the association’s board called to discuss the implications of the Bill.
“We have tried as much as we can to hold off. But you cannot have bills that are going to push you to the edge and this time there must be some space between the intent of this Bill and our ability to pay,” he added.
The issue over which the businesses are “deeply” and “severely” concerned revolves around sections of the Bill which suggest that bonuses and commission would be added to holiday pay.
Section 4 of the Bill states that “an employee who takes his annual holiday shall be paid the average pay for his annual holiday by his employer” and it lists the various ratios of “total remuneration” for calculating holiday pay based on the number of years of employment.
McDonald said the private sector saw this as an additional cost they could ill afford.
“Once you start applying further costs it put pressure on that commitment to maintain jobs. Some people have put it very bluntly that in running their cost forward they can’t afford the number of staff they have if the Bill speaks to what their worse fears are.
“Other people said it would be very difficult to hire new people and very difficult to grow. So there is a mixture of reaction that comes forward, especially people who say, ‘let me work the numbers and see what the implications are. Oh shoot, it is actually going to cost me X thousand dollars more a year to run,’” he said.
The BPSA boss stated that while the business community was happy with 80 per cent of the proposed measure, some sections needed clarification.
And he explained that despite seeking a meeting with the Ministry of Labour since early last year to get an explanation, the association only received an acknowledgement on September 12, 2015, followed by promises “to meet and conclude the matter as late as January 29 of this year.
“There are far too many areas of interpretive differences that should the Bill be put in its current form, given our knowledge of the industrial relations climate and the fears that we have, that will cause industrial relations concerns.
“You can’t have a Bill that two intelligent people can reasonably have two opposing views on the interpretation of that Bill; neither with malice, but both with very pertinent points of view. Can you imagine the chaos that will cause on the industrial relations landscape? Not to mention the level of court and time and energy that will be used to try to settle these matters,” added the private sector executive.
McDonald said the private sector grouping has called on Government to bring “absolute clarity” to the piece of legislation, adding, “the reason we raise it at this time is because we want the people who we represent to understand this is a matter we cannot let rest.
“It has to be taken on with a level of urgency and seriousness that reflects where we are as an economy and a society and that reflects the need for dialogue at a different and deeper level,” he stressed.