Nearly two years after it requested submissions on how to improve its controversial Employment Rights Act (ERA), Government is yet to take on board any of the suggested amendments made by the umbrella Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC).
“We regret that we are yet to see any action to bring the necessary regulations, which are now urgently required to bring some balance to the current environment,” President Marguerite Estwick told reporters during a news conference Monday at which she joined with other BEC officials in complaining about the slow pace of State decision-making.
Estwick also warned of possible fallout in terms of investment if certain “grey areas” in the Act were not urgently clarified.
“It makes our environment very, very difficult and . . . as we position ourselves to compete for investment dollars, we need to look at it from that perspective,” she said.
It was back in July 2015 that the Ministry of Labour had called on members of the public, as well as organizations, to submit comments, recommendations or concerns on the legislation so adjustments could be made to the legislatiion.
In response, the BEC submitted a 14-page document last November outlining its concerns and recommendations, which have to do with the application of the law and the exclusion of what it deems to be important provisions from the measure.
Further to its submissions, the BEC has also been lobbying for discussions on the ERA at the level of the sub-committee of the Social Partnership, which brings together employer, unions and Government.
“We again ask that this matter be given top priority,” the BEC president urged on behalf of the over 200 members of the employers’ body, who she said continued to grapple with shifts in a legislative environment in which there remained “many ambiguities”.
“It [ERA] has in fact increased and brought a level of a legal procedural element into the workplace that makes it very difficult for small employers who may not have dedicated human resources departments [or] highly trained human resources professionals to lead a process that has become very legalistic in terms of how the procedures have been set out,” she said, while highlighting customer complaints as one area of difficulty.
While acknowledging that the ERA was a substantial piece of legislation with a significant impact on the operation of businesses in Barbados, BEC Executive Director Tony Walcott highlighted two sections of the legislation which he said were open to various interpretations and needed to be immediately clarified.
These are Section 10 of the Act, which makes provision for a person to appear before the Tribunal with “any other person whom he desires to represent him”. Walcott said this section was often “grossly misinterpreted” with many individuals turning up with lawyers.
The BEC spokesman also zeroed in on Section 26 (b) of the Act, which makes provision for an employer to dismiss an employee where “he is employed under a contract for a fixed term and that term expires without being renewed under the same contract”, saying it needed to be clarified, as it was “quite controversial”.
Walcott explained that since the purpose of a fixed term contract was usually for a specific job, and with a number of jobs being done nowadays on a project-by-project basis, that section of the Act also presented some challenges for employers.
“Don’t let us lose sight of the legislation, it was intended to secure the rights of the employee in the workplace. Sometimes too far left takes you right and I think there needs to be an adjustment in the swing of the pendulum. We need to get some balance into the process,” he stressed.
The BEC is also concerned about the delay in the establishment of the minimum wages board under the Minimum Wages Act. And despite being proclaimed and coming into force in January 2013, the BEC said it was concerned that the Safety and Health at Work Act was still to be gazetted and to take full effect.