Trade unionist raps proposed changes to Labour Code

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St. John’s Antigua- “Labour Code genocide” is how trade unionist Stafford Joseph classified the proposed changes to laws governing working on a public holiday and where an employer is unable to pay staff for 30 days for work already done.

As it stands now, under section C 14 (1), employees are not obliged to work on a public holiday except in emergency situations.

Certain industries and enterprises are exempt from the law.

The recommended change reads, “Any employee who accepts employment in an establishment/enterprise which operates on public holidays, and is subsequently scheduled to work on such days, will be obliged to report for duty provided that he is properly notified by the way of the relevant schedule…”

The employee would also be exempted from working on the holiday due to illness, applicable collective agreement or proven unforeseen circumstances.

Joseph, the general secretary of the Antigua & Barbuda Free Trade Union, slammed the proposal at Thursday’s night town hall consultation on the matter, as he equated it to “forced labour.

“It is better the workers have a choice in the matter,” he said.

Speaking on the proposed amendment, Chairman of the National Labour Board and moderator of the consultation Pedro Corbin said the Labour Code must change to accommodate certain key developments in the service sector.

He noted, though, that the law regarding remuneration for work done on a public holiday would remain the same.

“Employers cannot tell you they are going to give you days in lieu of working on a holiday, that’s against the law. The law is there that states once you do work on a public holiday you have to compensate me,” Corbin said.

He noted that compensation means payment of regular pay multiplied by time and a half.

Another area of concern for Joseph is section C 3, which defines “shift work” as “variable hours of work, scheduled within a 24-hour period, over a seven-day work week where Saturdays and Sundays are regular workdays.”

The trade unionist said the definition and adoption of such would be discriminatory because there are shift workers who keep Sabbath on either Saturday or Sunday and would therefore not be able to work on one of the two days.

Corbin said it is something employees would have to “learn to live with as best they can” and he further noted they can negotiate with their employer.

In the meantime, Joseph raised another issue with section C 32 (2) (b) which proposes “if an employer is unable to pay his employee for three consecutive months, the employment relationship shall be deemed to have been terminated. The employee should suffer no loss of his unpaid salary or wages…”

It should be noted the labour code only governs private sector and non-established workers.

He said it is “ludicrous” to change the time period from the current 30 days to three months.

“If the employers are allowed to have workers without pay for up to three months, it would create hardship. Crime would go up in Antigua,” Joseph concluded.

Corbin noted the argument and said it would be discussed by the Labour Board when the body meets to review the draft again.

Several other proposed changes were discussed but were less contentious.

Among them, was the proposal to give a man in a common law relationship with a woman – for two years – Paternity Leave.

To qualify for the payment, the man must have completed 12 months continuous service with an employer and, at least three months prior to the birth of the child he shall produce a copy of the medical certificate stating the expected date of birth.

Paternity leave would be granted within two weeks of birth and a total of five working days with pay would be given to the father. The payment would only be granted once a year so as to discourage abuse of the system.

Joseph, the lone trade unionist present, was among approximately 15 other people in attendance at the consultation at the Multipurpose Cultural Centre.

Labour Minister Dr Errol Cort and Corbin expressed disappointment over the “poor” turnout.

Several town hall consultations were held across the country in recent years including in Bolans, Cedar Grove, Parham, Pigotts and Swetes, Corbin said.

The town hall styled event was the last of its kind. However, anyone who wishes to make recommendations can still do so.

Corbin explained, “Persons who wish to make recommendations can call in to us Thursday night on ABS’s Labour Matters programme; send an email to Hesketh Williams at ; put it in writing to the Labour Minister Dr Errol Cort or directly to the Labour Department addressed to the National Labour Board and it would get to us.”

The National Labour Board is a tripartite group, comprising 12 people – four were drawn from the government’s side, four represent employers and the remaining four unions. The board’s final recommendations must be taken to Parliament for debate and approval.

The existing Labour Code is available on while the proposed changes can be viewed on the Government’s Website at .

 

 

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