Employers could now face fines of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for one year if they are found to be in breach of the just approved Labour Department Amendment Act.
Under the original piece of legislation, which dates back to 1943, any person who refused to provide information to the Chief Labour Officer without lawful cause, or provided false information, could be fined $50 or could face three months imprisonment.
However Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo told the Senate today that such a penalty was “hardly a hindrance today”, hence the reason for the significant increase in penalties.
“It goes on to add that where a person is convicted of an offence under this Act, and a fine is imposed, and that person fails to comply with the order of the court in respect of that fine, that person is then liable to a further fine of $500 for each day during which the failure to comply continues.
“So the aim here is that the fees would be a deterrent, but also the further fine of $500 per day for not complying with any order of the court, would in itself be enough stimulus for you to ensure that you make good on that order of the court,” Byer-Suckoo said.
Retired trade unionist and Senator Sir Roy Trotman gave his support to the amendment, saying he has seen instances during his years in the labour movement where employers had bluntly refused to respect simple requests from the Chief Labour Officer (CLO) or to work with the Labour Department regarding matters of the exploitation of workers and their conditions.
“And I support anything that goes towards making us all realize that we have to be a community that respects order and respects rules that govern our community and our society,” Sir Roy said.
He also questioned the removal of provisions in the original law which allowed the Chief Labour Officer to be able to initiate proceedings against defaulters without having to engage a legal officer.
“However in this particular legislation, while that provision was in the legislation, I notice that that provision is now removed from the legislation and there is no longer a provision for that to take place.
“And I’m wondering whether this is an oversight or whether there is a deliberate policy that in this regard it would not be proper for the CLO to deal in a matter engaging himself and his office,” Sir Roy questioned.
Senator Sir Trevor Carmichael also raised similar questions, while supporting the amended legislation.