No to industrial courts

It is an established fact that since the advent of trade unions in Barbados in the 1940s, industrial relations practice has been grounded under the voluntaristic system. This system has and continues to work well for Barbados. Some Caribbean territories such as Jamaica and Trinidad have introduced industrial courts into their industrial relations practice.

The call for Barbados to make the switch from the voluntaristic system to that of setting up an industrial court, cannot be justified simply on the basis that there is a need to move away from having the office the Prime Minister mediate in an industrial dispute. There is merit in following the school of thought that if it is not broken, then there is no need to fix it.

The birth of the Social Partnership and the acceptance of the three stakeholders in the Government of Barbados, the Labour Movement and the Private Sector to successive Protocols that govern the local industrial relations practice, has served to cement the voluntaristic system. The working of this unique model which has captured the attention of the world, puts to rest that there is no need for a need for a change to be contemplated within the immediate future.

The history of industrial relations practice in Barbados has been well served by the collective bargaining process. Mediation and conciliation with interventions at the level of the Chief Labour Officer, the Minister of Labour and finally at the level of the office of the Prime Minister have been accepted as part of the industrial relations culture and practice and have been observed.

Even in times when battle lines are drawn, the employer and trade union that are involved, have come to respect the process. It is fair to state that it sometimes requires that the trade union applies pressure by engaging in legitimate protest action.

The view expressed by Wendell Cumberbatch, President of the Human Resource Management Association of Barbados is that: “An industrial court will enhance industrial relations practices in country, especially regarding wage determination, industrial courts take less time and are less formal and less costly than the regular court system.”

It is interesting that in advancing this view that he also admits that: “However, for the industrial court to be effective, it would mean that the requisite number of resources be available to avoid any backlog in the system.”

This assertion tends to suggest that cost is a factor. It would be good if he had provided evidence from Caribbean jurisdictions where industrial courts are in place, to support the claim that they take less time and are less costly.

Where the voluntaristic system is practised as in the case of Barbados, cost is not a significant factor. There is usually no need for an attorney-at-law. Legal and other fees are not an issue. There is usually no need for judicial redress, and hence the matter of a long drawn out legal matter with its high associated costs is not the norm.

To move from an approach where an agreement is reached based on a compromised arrangement, to one which a decision is thrust upon the parties, will tend to create more discord, and heighten the industrial relations tension between employer and employees.

Based on these few examples, it is apparent that the voluntaristic system which is tried and proven remains the preferred option. It seems the ideal preference given the fact that the parties can agree to disagree, and moreover, can reach an amicable settlement or resolution by working through the accepted mechanism.

The beauty of following the voluntaristic system, is that it more often than not leads to a compromise being arrived at, and that the agreement or understanding reached is accepted and respected by the parties to the dispute. It is to be stressed that the agreement or understanding is not contingent upon the imposition of the force of law.

Given that in free and democratic societies, recourse to the law courts always is a right and an option, there is no need to replace the voluntaristic system, only to subject the local industrial relations practice to the rigidities of an industrial court where the force of law is overwhelming in dictating the employer-employee relationship.

* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.

Visit our Website: www.regionalmanagementservicesinc

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