Executive Director of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Sheena Mayers-Granville is calling for changes to be made to the Employment Rights Act (ERA) to allow employers to dismiss workers for what she called relatively “small matters” without going through the formal process.
In addition, Mayers-Granville wants the legislation to allow for “frivolous” cases not to go before the Employment Rights Tribunal.
Her call came on Monday as she officially launched the organisation’s annual week of activities in celebration of its 63 years of existence, with the focus this year on sustainable development.
Pointing out that the industrial relations climate was changing, Mayers-Granville said Barbados could no longer insist “that is how we have always done it”.
She said there was need instead for new systems to “emerge as we respond to our new challenges confronting the business community” with the focus being on managing change.
“Over the last century we inherited fulltime employment and open-ended employment relationships but those things are changing. So we now have varying types of work. The answer is to not enforce one type of work but to look at how we can ensure the benefits spill over to anyone, whatever type of work they are employed in,” she said.
However, she said the ERA in its current form presented a major challenge especially for micro and small companies because of the way it is written in terms of applying discipline.
“It requires a tremendous amount of resources for employers. So if there is a very, I don ‘t want to say ‘simple case’ or ‘minor case’, but you might have an issue such as punctuality. That is something that is well documented . . . but still if an employer notices a trend for that issue and they wish to discipline an employee they must go through a very formal process, which requires writing to the employee inviting them to a hearing for them to have representation,” she explained.
“Now, what that does is create a level of formality around discipline which creates issues in the workplace. So think about a small employer who might have three employees and you are dealing with this issue. Think about the amount of resources it takes just to handle this and it might be something that results in a verbal warning at the first instance, and then you have to repeat that process. So we are having issues in terms of the application of the legislation when it comes to dealing with some small matters,” she said.
Mayers-Granville said the time had also come for mechanisms to be put in place to “allow for the dismissal of frivolous cases before they get to the tribunal”.
“So we don’t have a mechanism where at first look you can say this is not something that necessarily needs to reach the level of a tribunal,” she said.
Just last Friday, Chairman of the tribunal Justice Christopher Blackman said he did not believe employers in Barbados were “sufficiently respectful of the rules of natural justice” or “due process”.
“We see things like summary dismissals without the benefit of a fair hearing,” he said.
He also pointed out that the tribunal was on course to clearing one in five of the 200 old cases by the end of this year.
President of the BEC Marguerite Estwick said while she noted Blackman’s comments, the backlog was creating an issue for her organisation.
“The lack of those decisions is creating a huge gap for us and it makes it impossible for us basically, to review any significant issues that the tribunal would have picked up a trend on or the area where employers consistently make mistakes,” said Estwick.
“The efforts by the private sector to comply with the Employments Right Act have been significant . . . No employer willfully goes out of his or her way not to comply with legislation in Barbados. There is too much information available,” she said.
She also noted efforts by current Minister of Labour Colin Jordan to “fix some of those administrative gaps” relating to the Employment Rights Act, adding that she was anxiously awaiting confirmation regarding when adequate resources would be provided to permit the Employment Rights Tribunal to address its backlog of cases.
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