Employers who treat their workers unfairly by withholding money they are due should be prosecuted or be made to part with their funds, a trade unionist has suggested.
The comments come as former employees of Rotherley Construction Inc and Ozone Wireless went public with claims that they were laid off without receiving money owed to them. .
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, the general secretary of the fledgling Unity Workers’ Union, Senator Caswell Franklyn, called for harsh penalties to be handed down to employers who ignore the law by refusing to pay workers their benefits.
Former workers of Ozone Wireless complained that they were still awaiting their money after being sent home last May.
Senator Franklyn said: “There are too many things which the Government can do to protect workers . . . like implement legislation which would make it a criminal offence, so that it gives them the power to haul directors before the court who refuse to pay their workers.”
He insisted that although there were rules, they were no penalties for breaking them.
Senator Franklyn said that even in cases where there were penalties, no one was willing to enforce the law.
The outspoken trade unionist said in many of these instances, when severed employees went to the National Insurance Scheme’s Unemployment Bureau to apply for unemployment benefits, they were told that no contributions had been paid on their behalf.
Senator Franklyn said: “You have the NIS where employers are supposed to pay contributions so that workers can go there for severance pay or unemployment benefits or both.
“But when you check, a lot of these workers have not had any monies credited to their account so they cannot get anything out because nothing was put in for them, and nobody is going after those employers who refuse to pay in that money.
“All you have to do is put two before the court and the rest will start to comply, but nobody has been brought before the court.”
Ozone’s ex-workers also claimed that some of the company’s former directors were non-nationals who “had resigned and virtually vanished”.
He contended that if the issue was not seriously addressed, Barbadians would continue to be taken advantage of by foreign-owned companies.
The trade unionist told Barbados TODAY: “If we are not careful, a lot of them will leave this country, especially if there are foreign employers and you will hear nothing about them and there will be nothing for these people to get. Government has to protect these workers.”
Foreign companies should be made to deposit cash sureties, which would be forfeited should they leave the country abruptly, he suggested.
Another trade union leader suggested to Barbados TODAY that the Government closely monitor an emerging trend in which employers were taking advantage of staff.
Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers Delcia Burke said: “Of course the NUPW is watching. For the past couple of years we have noticed that employers are not treating their workers in the way that they should, but I blame some of the workers too because they are not joining trade unions and they run and come to the union after they have been dismissed.
“I think that the Government of Barbados needs to look very closely at how the employers in Barbados are treating their workers.”