In a strongly-worded rebuke, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) today charged local Government authorities with failing to prosecute employers who it claims continue to commit crimes against their employees.
Deputy General Secretary of the BWU Dwaine Paul, who drew specific reference to the cutting of salaries, said the list of companies guilty of breaking the law that prohibits unilaterally slashing workers’ pay is growing while no one is being held accountable.
Paul said the practice of business leaders flouting the Health and Safety legislation and the law that protects workers from salary cuts has been allowed to persist under successive administrations.
He insisted that the practice must stop now and that the executive council of the union should not even have to contemplate taking action against employers when the law is there to be obeyed.
“We believe that there are too many companies in Barbados which are breaking the labour laws and there seems to be no recourse. We just did a curfew act, brand new and people are prosecuted under the curfew act. We can’t see anybody being prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act…we can’t see anybody being prosecuted for violation of the Wages and Protection Act,” the Deputy General Secretary told Barbados TODAY.
“The system just does not seem to be able to prosecute people for violation of the labour laws. For workers to have confidence in this country that they are going to have their rights protected, we are going to unfortunately have to see some people prosecuted for crimes against workers,” the senior union official stressed.
Paul argued that workers who may steal or who are even suspected of stealing from an employer are quickly hauled before the law courts and seen in the media but he is dumbfounded as why the same action is not taken against the business managers.
In fact, the BWU official described the situation as a phenomenon.
“If a worker steals from a company they can call the police. The police can take away the employee, question them, investigate the matter and the worker can be charged if he is found with the merchandise,” Paul pointed out.
“Workers are easily prosecuted for that. But let an employer take a worker’s money, mistreat a worker, violate a worker’s rights, it seems to be all sorts of crazy situations at the end of it. Nobody gets prosecuted for it,” he added.
Paul is therefore calling on the authorities to enforce the labour laws and start getting employers before the courts.
“If we are going to be building a better Barbados we have to be able to hold the employer class accountable for the mistreatment of workers. A lot of people are dealing with this salary cut thing and shoving it down workers’ throats and not getting their permission because that is the way they see they are going to save their companies. You are taking money from the people that are the least able to give,” Paul declared.
He is suggesting that business managers and owners should approach commercial banks and negotiate financial assistance instead.
“Why don’t you go to the commercial banks. There is a lot of liquidity in the commercial banking system. Go and try to work out something with the banks. No, you go after workers, take their money and you are not repaying it; you are not treating it as an investment; there is not even any way for them to get a loan back at no interest rate. You just don’t want to give them back. So you just ‘down you hand in it’ and you take it away,” the BWU Deputy General Secretary stated.
When Barbados TODAY reached out to the employers’ representative body, its spokesman made it clear that the organisation does not support any member breaking the laws of Barbados and has advised them accordingly.
“We have advised from the beginning of the pandemic and even prior to that, that where an employer is contemplating restructuring or changing any form of the employment agreement that there needs to be consultation and agreement,” stated Executive Director of the Barbados Employers Confederation Sheena Mayers-Granville.
Mayers-Granville added: “Especially when it comes to any salary cuts, there needs to be consultation and there must be agreement before such is implemented.”
“Employers do not have the right to unilaterally change someone’s salary. It is a contract. The contract of employment would have been contemplated with labour for a specific wage. So there would have to be agreement if you are varying or changing that,” the employers’ representative warned.
She said that even in communicating with members, they are told that the employment legislation remains in force and must be adhered to.
“There are no changes or suspension to any piece of employment legislation to date during the pandemic period. So we have advised persons that all the Acts remain in place. So even when it came to vacation and employers were trying, during the lockdown period, to find a way to continue to pay employees, we would have advised that they needed to give two weeks’ notice or get the employee to basically agree to go off immediately…all employment legislation remains in force,” she reiterated to Barbados TODAY.
Earlier this week, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations Colin Jordan issued a similar caution to employers.
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