At least two Members of Parliament have called for more changes to the current labour laws to address some outstanding issues as the first Parliamentary session for 2019 got on the way today.
MP for St. Philip North, Dr Sonia Browne, said the first change she would recommend would be a change in the mandatory retirement age of 67, especially for older workers with health challenges.
Speaking during the tabling of the Employment Rights Tribunal Amendment by MP for St. Peter and Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, Dr. Browne said: “We have an ageing population, and I know of people who are still working, who are fighting for a pension increase to pay off their mortgage and meet other commitments, but some are already experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and are not very effective in the workplace as a result.
“We also have more mature home help workers with the National Assistance Board and some of the workers with the National Conservation Commission who are suffering with arthritis, and ideally they should be retired medically unfit when they have severe health conditions which impair their work.”
Browne also called for an increase in the time allocated for maternity leave. “Some women are really not ready to return to work six weeks after giving birth, so it might be better to introduce a flexi-time system where they can work a few hours a day instead of a full nine-to-five shift. It might also be helpful for more companies to have day care facilities for their staff with young children.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs and MP for St. James North, Edmund Hinkson, expressed concern about the number of cases the Employment Rights Tribunal had heard since its establishment. Calling its track record “unadmirable,” Hinkson said, “The first case heard before the tribunal was the one which involved the termination of 200 workers from the NCC.
“In all honesty, this was a clear case of unfair dismissal and did not really have to go before the tribunal, but in the end, the taxpayers ended up paying over $3 million in compensation to the workers and
another half million dollars in legal fees.” He added that of the 346 cases filed with the body, only 15 had come before it so far and of that 15, nine decisions were handed down.
In acknowledging that not all of the outstanding cases will come before the tribunal, Hinkson said, “Employers must take greater responsibility for their actions. If after prolonged negotiations a company recognised that it has unfairly dismissed someone, it should concede and pay whatever compensation the worker is owed.”
In addressing a concern Hinkson raised about the role of the Chief Labour Officer, as he wrapped up the debate, Minister of Labour Colin Jordan acknowledged “We intend to strengthen the Chief Labour Officer’s role. We will also launch a national training initiative for managers and supervisors, as we recognise that this is a major weakness in employer-employee relationships. And in terms of the tribunal, we will ensure that it does not become a place where workplace concerns go to die, but instead are handled in an appropriate fashion.”