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FRANKLY SPEAKING: Lay-offs and the law

Caswell Franklyn

FRANKLY SPEAKING: Lay-offs and the law

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The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) under Errol Barrow took the reins of office in 1961, and held on to power for the next 15 years until it was routed by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on September 2, 1976. Three days later the Advocate carried an article where Mr Barrow, in a televised interview, attributed the loss to 10 000 unemployed who were targeted by the BLP.
During the run-up to the last elections, the DLP found itself in a situation similar to that of 1976 where there were a significant number of unemployed youth.
Learning from that experience, they set about finding work for potential voters in key constituencies, without knowing where the money to pay them would come from.
Of course, that did not seem to matter, the priority was winning the elections. That strategy coupled with solemn promises, from all of the major campaign speakers, that there would be no lay-offs of public sector workers and that there would have been no privatisation of state assets worked to secure their razor-thin election victory.
As is their culture, the DLP withheld vital information from the electorate, only disclosing the truth about the troubled state of the economy after achieving victory at the polls. This time around the Government maintained the ruse that the economy was doing well all the way to the August Budget.
Even after the minister’s embarrassing admissions, the Prime Minister came on October 13, 2013, and gave hope to nervous public workers. According to the Daily Nation of the following day, the PM told a meeting of the party faithful at the Hilda Skeene Primary School that the financial savings ministries and departments needed to make to protect jobs were “within sight”.
Shown the door
Imagine the horror that temporary officers would have experienced when the Minister of Finance, in a Ministerial Statement in the House of Assembly on December 13, contradicted the assurance given by his leader two months earlier. He declared that 3 000 temporary officers drawn from the Public Service and statutory boards would have their services terminated, starting January 15.
Even before that deadline on December 31, the first group of approximately 400 from the Ministry of the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage were unceremoniously shown the door. Many of these workers, 210 to be exact, were employed just prior to the last elections. While discussing her plight, a female voice on the phone, claiming to be one of the affected workers, suggested to me that there ought to be a law against politicians offering people jobs to vote and then firing them after the elections.
I was able to point out to her that there is such a law against people offering jobs to electors to vote or to refrain from voting. Section 6(2), of the Election Offences And Controversies Act, makes it an offence to procure a job for an elector to induce that person to vote or refrain from voting. It is also an offence under section 6(5) to accept a job “for voting or agreeing to vote or for refraining or agreeing to refrain from voting”. We have already heard from the mouths of the Prime Minister and Attorney General that they witnessed vote-buying.
The next set of people to lose their jobs was employees of the National Housing Corporation (NHC). I have heard it said by some of those remaining that they got rid of all of (former Minister of Housing) Gline Clarke’s people. That is the political slant but those dismissals are even more sinister than would appear at first glance.
Pensions Act
Even though NHC is a statutory corporation, the Housing Act at Section 20 makes provision for its employees to be pensionable under the Pensions Act, chapter 25 of the laws of Barbados. That act normally applies to employees of central government. However, in order to appreciate the nature of the lay-offs at NHC, you must look at the combined effects of sections 2A and 8A of the Pensions Act; section 14 of the Severance Payments Act, cap. 355A; and paragraph 36 of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s judgment in the Winton Campbell case.
Section 2A of the Pensions Act makes temporary officers who have more than ten years’ service, pensionable. Section 14 of the Severance Payments Act excludes people who are “pensionable under any enactment for the time being in force in Barbados” from the receipt of severance pay under that act. And paragraph 36 of the judgment in the Winton Campbell case provides that people who were let go under these circumstances are pensionable under the Pensions Act, but that such persons “would not receive their pensions till attaining the age of 60 years”.
In effect, all those people who had more than ten years’ service at NHC would not be entitled to receive one of those soon-to-be-abolished cents until age 60.
However, according to Section 8A of the Pensions Act, a temporary officer who had been employed after 2008, and whose employment “is terminated after not less than two years of service” is entitled to receive compensation immediately. Coincidence?
 Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.