Four years after the Employment Rights Act was proclaimed, Government is pressing ahead with a review of the controversial legislation.
“We are now looking at a review of the legislation, with a view to making recommendations as to how we can make any adjustments that would be considered appropriate, given the issues that would have arisen,” Chief Labour Officer Victor Felix told Barbados TODAY without going into details about the concerns that have been raised, or who had raised those concerns.
“I don’t think that at this stage [I want] to go as far as delving into what the actual issues [are], because those are the kind of matters [that are] subject to discussion at the various levels, including the Social Partnership, before you get to that stage when you can say these are the kinds of issues you want to make public,” he said.
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo first announced plans to take a second look at the Act back in April 2014, a year after it took effect, but had said no more than there had been concerns.
A year later, in July 2015, the Ministry of Labour announced a review and invited submissions from the public, saying in a statement at the time that concerns had been raised by workers, employers and other members of the public, regarding “the application of the law and the exclusion of important provisions from the legislation”.
Human resource management and development consultant Brenda Evelyn, principal consultant at Evelyn Associates Ltd, had also questioned the section of the Act which relates to the issuing of contracts to employees, saying it was a serious flaw.
But perhaps the most damning criticism came in May last year from the umbrella Barbados Employers Confederation (BEC) which said the law had “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”.
BEC Executive Director Tony Walcott had said then that Section 10 of the Act, which makes provision for a person to appear before the Employment Rights Tribunal with “any other person whom he desires to represent him” was being “grossly misinterpreted” with many individuals turning up with lawyers.
He had also said that Section 26 (b), which provides 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”, needed clarification, as it was “quite controversial”.
In his interview with Barbados TODAY, Felix yesterday said there was those who felt the law was skewed in favour of workers and that there were questions surrounding ways to get “the entire system to function optimally so that we get the best out of the entire operation, including securing the rights of workers and having the entire system operate as efficiently as possible”.
Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss is among those who believe the current laws give “all the rights” to employees to the detriment of the businesses themselves.
“I remain a bit troubled that as we have moved forward with some reforms of labour legislation in Barbados, that we may be moving towards a point where employees in Barbados have all the rights and employers’ rights are greatly diminished,” Inniss said in January in an address at the fifth anniversary luncheon and awards ceremony of Crumbz Bakeries at the 3Ws Oval at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, during which he warned that in such a situation there were no winners, and that there was a need for a “frank” conversation on the issue.
Meantime, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) Toni Moore told Barbados TODAY the trade union movement was involved in the review process, something the BWU had called for back in 2014.
“There are some aspects of the Act that we have even challenged and submitted proposals for amending it. Similarly the private sector has gone through that exercise and we have actually started discussions at the level of the Ministry of Labour where we held, I think it is two or three meetings during last year to examine some of the proposals from the private sector and the union towards what we feel would be strengthening the Act even if it means strengthening by clarification by what is intended,” Moore said.
The Employment Rights Act addresses areas such as circumstances in which an employee is dismissed, unfair dismissal, redundancy, complaints to the Employment Rights Tribunal in respect of unfair dismissal, effective date of termination, priority in hiring in certain cases and order for reinstatement by the Tribunal.