Industrial court needed

Since the beginning of this year Barbados has been faced with industrial action of one kind or the other. The time has come for Barbados to seriously look at the implementation of an industrial court. As the country face new challenges, the areas of industrial relations and labour practices remain critical for economic and social stability.

Trade unions have existed in Barbados since the 1940s and have served the country well until this present time. However, we need to move away from having the office of the Prime Minister having to mediate over industrial disputes when there is an impasse.

With an industrial court, disputes can be settled out of the realm of the normal judicial system and provide an efficient forum for the orderly resolution of employment matters. If Barbados had an industrial court in place it would be able to deal with any breakdowns in the conciliation process.

As long as the Ministry of Labour had exhausted the process and the parties had reached no resolution, the ministry could issue a Certificate of Unresolved Dispute. Once the union was in possession of this certificate, it can then report the breakdown to the industrial court.

At present Barbados operates under the voluntaristic system and there is no legal requirement on an employer to attend a conciliation meeting and no penalties for not attending. Whether the parties can agree on a settlement is entirely a matter for the parties and both are free to agree or not agree. That is the essence of conciliation — it is voluntary.

There is a school of thought in some quarters that if an industrial court was implemented that it would take away some of the “power” that the trade unions wield. I beg to differ; evidence of this has been demonstrated in the territories in the Caribbean where industrial courts exist. At present there are industrial courts in Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago. These are two territories that are known for their strong union presence and the industrial courts have not affected them in a major way.

It is my belief that an industrial court will enhance industrial relations practices in this country, especially regarding wage determination. Industrial courts take less time and are less formal and less costly than the regular court system. Also based on the legislation, there is a wide range of remedies that industrial courts can give, like judgment on unfair dismissal and reinstatement. In addition, the court will help to reduce the adversarial relationship that has raised its head in some quarters.

In developed or developing economies the industrial court can be a mechanism for the easier resolution of disputes. However, for the industrial court to be effective it would mean that the requisite number of resources be made available so as to avoid any backlog in the system.

* Wendell Cumberbatch is President of the Human Resource Management Association of Barbados

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