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FRANKLY SPEAKING: A matter for the tribunal

Caswell Franklyn

FRANKLY SPEAKING: A matter for the tribunal

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While sitting at my living room table pulling the notes for this column together, I heard a ping on my iPad which alerted me to an incoming email. It turned out to be the May 13 issue of the Barbados Today. I stopped writing and started to read.
I noticed that there were three items on pages 2, 8 and 9 that showed the Leader of the Opposition coming out fighting.
After reading two of the items in particular: Lashley: Leave My Wife Out Of The Fray and Mia Fires at Minister of Labour, I started to blame myself for Ms Mottley’s outburst and decided to change focus.
I intended to write about the relationship between the Democratic Labour Party and the electorate and liken it to the Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological disorder where the victims of abuse bond with their abusers; and also about the own-goal scored by the Governor of the Central Bank, when he purportedly banned the NATION from any future news conference or media event hosted by him. I was going to respectfully suggest to him that he had flown past his nest and that he should turn back before he makes Barbados look worse than it is already looking. But those would have to wait for another day.
In my last column, published on May 4, I suggested that the Opposition was dormant. It would appear as though my words had some impact on Ms Mottley, and she made a conscious effort to be seen as opposing. I did not intend that she should come out fighting for the sake of being seen and heard as fighting.
In the first article, it appeared as though Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley was forced to represent his wife after Ms Mottley made reference to the cost of the Minister’s wife accompanying him on a trip to the People’s Republic of China. The Minister pointed out that the trip was fully sponsored by the Chinese. His explanation made Ms Mottley’s criticism look as though she was clutching at straws.
In the next item which appeared on page 8, Ms Mottley was quoted as saying from the floor of the House of Assembly on May 13: “How can a Minister of Labour go overseas when the whole industrial relations of the country is on a knife’s edge? There is nothing more important for the Minister of Labour to do than to preside over a resolution of the matter between the NCC and the NUPW and the Minister of Finance.”
If your concern is scoring political points that sounds like a reasonable position to take but, in reality, it shows that the Opposition Leader is just jumping on any available bandwagon to deliver her message without any idea of its destination.
I’ve pointed out before in this column that the new Employment Rights Act, which came into force on April 15, 2013 sets out a procedure for dealing with disputes settlement, like the one between NCC and the two major trade unions, and it does not provide a role for the Minister of Labour. Sections 42 and 43 (1) are relevant:
42. (1) Where an employee believes that there is a dispute concerning an infringement of any right conferred on him by this Act, he may present a complaint to the Chief Labour Officer.
(2) A complaint may be made under this section by an employee, or a trade union or another representative group on behalf of the employee.
(3) Where a group of employees, having the same or substantially the same interests, has a complaint, one complaint may be made in a representative capacity.
43. (1) Where the Chief Labour Officer receives a complaint under section 42, he shall as soon as practicable inquire into the matter and process the complaint for conciliation and referral to the tribunal.
The unions are alleging that the dismissals of some of the workers were unfair, and if that were the case, they would have an arguable case before the Employment Rights Tribunal because the employer would have, at the very least, breached the right conferred on employees by section 27 (1) of the act, which states:
27. (1) An employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed by his employer.
By now, persons might be asking what is this tribunal, and why should aggrieved employees and their unions choose it rather than seek assistance from the Minister of Labour, and if need be, the Prime Minister.
The employment rights tribunal was established, in accordance with section 6 of the Employment Rights Act, to enforce the rights conferred upon persons by that act. It is empowered to determine complaints made to it and to make awards and other decisions including the reinstatement or re-engagement of workers.
Neither the Minister nor the Prime Minister has any power to bring about a settlement of any industrial dispute. I therefore find it puzzling why any union would constantly complain about political interference in the public service, and thereafter, seek the assistance of politicians to settle disputes when they are other legally binding options available.
I am not convinced that the best interest of workers is not foremost in the minds of persons who are shouting the loudest. If the unions firmly believe that they have right on their side, they should invoke the procedure, before the employment rights tribunal, that is guaranteed to produce a result rather than being seen as mendicants. What we are seeing now is not industrial relations: it is begging.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.