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Changes coming to ERA

by Emmanuel Joseph
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An amended Employment Rights Bill is expected to go before Parliament shortly.

Minister of Labour Colin Jordan confirmed on Thursday it has to be done “long before the end of the year”.

“I am actually going through the submissions after all of the consultations. The Act itself was ground-breaking. The amendments have to be gone through pretty thoroughly. We have had a lot of consultations and we are going through those now,” Jordan told Barbados TODAY.

“It has got to be done before the end of the year, and even saying that sounds too far away. We have to wrap up as soon as possible. But I don’t want to give a month, but hopefully long before the end of the year,” he added.

The minister however said the proposed amendments to the Act would be taken back to the Social Partnership, before reaching Cabinet.

“The way we do things is that we always go back to the Social Partners, so that if there is anything significant, we go back to them a final time before we actually go to Cabinet, then Parliament,” he stated.

Early last month, employers urged Government to review the Employment Rights Act (ERA) to provide for a process that balances natural justice with swift resolution for minor infractions.

Executive Director of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Sheena Mayers-Granville has contended that despite there being “few” disputes regarding the outcome of unfair dismissal cases adjudicated by the Employment Rights Tribunal, several areas of concern regarding the act remain.                                                                                                                           “The Fourth Schedule of the ERA lacks provisions for minor infractions that may result in less severe forms of discipline, such as verbal warnings. This has heightened anxiety for workers and increased administrative burdens for employers,” Mayers-Granville told Barbados TODAY.                                                                                                                                             She also called for changes to Section 31, which requires six-week consultation periods before redundancy takes effect in situations where 10 per cent or a significant number of workers is impacted.

“This legislation may place undue stress and strain on small organisations without the capacity for consultations. Clarification is needed for businesses with 10 employees or less who may need to make a single position or person redundant. Notably, in the United Kingdom, there is no statutory requirement for collective consultation where the redundancies involve less than 20 employees. We should consider a similar threshold in local legislation,” she declared.                                                                                                                                           The BEC head also said that resources needed to be allocated to the Labour Department to handle cases referred to the ERT in an efficient and timely manner. She pointed out that although nine people have been appointed to the tribunal, it is necessary to strengthen the supporting infrastructure for prompt case handling. Meanwhile, Mayers-Granville said the delivery of judgments by the tribunal has greatly assisted employers in interpreting the Act.

Last month, retired Court of Appeal Justice Christopher Blackman, who resigned as chairman of the ERT at the end of March also called for amendments to the legislation, enactment of rules for the tribunal and the provision of a dedicated space for the work of the body. “Regrettably, the several issues which I have canvassed for, or worked upon over that time, including the provision of a dedicated space for the work of the tribunal, the enactment of Rules for the tribunal and amendments to the Employment Rights Act, continue to be ‘works in progress’,” Justice Blackman told Labour Minister Colin Jordan in his one-page letter of resignation. “It is my sincere wish that the speedy resolution of these matters occurs as soon as possible,” he added.

On Thursday, Minister Jordan said these issues are being addressed along with selection of a replacement for Justice Blackman.  He gave the assurance that in the meantime, the tribunal continues to function under two deputies.

emmanueljoseph@barbadostoday.bb

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