Minister of Labour, Social Partnership Relations and the Third Sector Colin Jordan is giving employers the assurance that work is continuing on amending labour laws but made it clear it will be done in a way that protects the most vulnerable.
This indication came on Wednesday as president of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Gail-Ann King indicated that some bosses believed the current labour rules were too rigid and needed to cater more to new trends, especially those emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.
She mentioned work-life balance, health and safety and mental health among the areas that require greater focus.
King and Jordan were taking part in a discussion organised by the BEC at Sandals Barbados on Wednesday.
“I think sometimes as employers the concern is that the regulations themselves are too rigid. It might not be the intent but because it is black and white, it tends to be to the letter of the law. In many instances, there is a feeling sometimes articulated that it hinders efficiency and fluidity in terms of how we operate in the labour market,” said King.
She further noted that some labour regulations were seen as cumbersome, slowing down some processes, and were unfriendly, especially to micro and small firms.
King made reference to the sections of the Employment Rights Act (ERA) which speaks to consultation in relation to layoffs and disciplinary hearings, the minimum wage legislation and how commissions are affected, and the Holiday with Pay Act.
Jordan agreed the pieces of labour legislation were outdated and came across as complicated, but suggested they were necessary and created in a way to prevent loopholes.
“To the average person, the law ends up being written in a way that makes it seem daunting, primarily because there is an attempt to make sure that a person cannot wiggle their way out,” he explained while noting that legislation was not written for individuals or specific companies but “for a situation”.
“I can almost use the word necessarily complicated, but necessary . . . to make sure you plug gaps and that you have set something effective. It makes no sense having a piece of legislation that everybody finds all the loopholes and then is back to square one,” he said.
Pointing out that some work has already been done on the Safety and Health at Work Act (SHaW), Jordan said regulations governing the right to refuse dangerous tasks would soon be introduced.
The labour minister said lawmakers were in the process of finalising amendments to the ERA, having received recommendations from the BEC, labour unions and other relevant stakeholders.
“I will be one of the first to admit that our legislation needs to be updated,” he declared, adding that while the need to address deficiencies across a range of sectors existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic they became even more urgent in light of it.
Jordan said tweaks to the Minimum Wage Act to better facilitate commission payments and changes to the Holiday with Pay Act were “a work in progress”.
He said it could not be denied that there was “a power imbalance between a worker and an employing organisation”, but added that one of the main challenges that labour ministries around the world faced was “how far do we go to protect people”.
However, Jordan made it clear that Government was there to ensure equity through legislation in order to avoid anarchy.
“I believe there is work to be done and we have to do it, but from our perspective, it takes some time. That is not to say that you are not to continue to agitate for the changes you need. I am aware of a lot of them, the ministry is aware of a lot of them because there is a lot of correspondence going both ways.
“The commitment I am making is that we intend to address the issues within the context of protecting those who we consider to be vulnerable or who could potentially be vulnerable,” said Jordan as he stressed the need to ensure “easily accessible protection” for workers.
The Labour Minister said he was especially pleased to have implemented the SHaW Act, regulations pertaining to harassment and discrimination in the workplace, minimum wage, and amendments to the
“The other thing was addressing the efficiency of the Employment Rights Tribunal. We still have a backlog but the efficiency has improved because we started in 2018 using case management to push some of the cases,” he said, adding that officials were in the final stages of the final draft of rules for the ERT.