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Safety first

I know that circumstances in the Barbadian business landscape look grim but I could not believe that while the country was under storm/ hurricane watch employers expected their employees to turn up for work.

The vast majority of the 270,000 odd souls in this country would have been bunkered down in their own homes in any event and I cannot imagine what could have been so urgent. Of course I am not surprised that our Attorney General now has to get a legal opinion on whether such behaviour is permitted by our laws.

Having passed the Employment Rights Act in 2012 which became effective earlier this year I am sad to say that yet again we failed to pass legislation which could comprehensively address all aspects of the employment relationship.

As always we commence our discussion with an examination of the Constitution which is the bedrock of our legal system. Section 14 provides that “no person shall be required to perform forced labour” but subsection 3(d) goes on to stipulate that the definition of forced labour does not include “any labour required during any period when Barbados is at war or in the event of any hurricane, earthquake, flood, fire or other like calamity that threatens the life or well-being of the community, to the extent that the requiring of such labour is reasonably justifiable, in the circumstances of any situation arising or existing during that period or as a result of that calamity, for the purpose of dealing with that situation”.

How does one interpret this section? It would seem that an abundance of common sense would dictate that those persons who are to steer the ship in times of peril are those who may be called upon to leave the safety of their homes for the purpose of aiding in the maintenance of safety and security of the wider society.

Those persons generally know who they are and largely are comprised of members of the police and armed forces, medical personnel, fire services and employees of the Department of Emergency Management. If you are in the business of selling clothes or other consumer goods and services then I would suggest that the country can do without the services of your employees prior to the all-clear being given.

The Department of Emergency Management was created in 2006 by section 3 of the Emergency Management Act, Chapter 160A and is charged with the guiding and implementation of the government’s emergency management plan. The director of DEM must prepare an annual plan which in section 9(2) addresses amongst other things:

“(a) preparedness and response to disasters or other emergencies of public officers, ministries and departments of government, … persons or organisations who volunteer or are required by law to perform functions related to emergency management in Barbados;

(b) Coordination of the … plan and its implementation with the preparation and implementation of procedures for coordinating disaster or other emergency response plans of persons and bodies;…

(c) notification of persons under paragraph (a) and the public … of a threatened hazard … or of the existence of a disaster or other emergency;

(e) mobilisation of services and systems, including procedures for the manning of Emergency Operations Centres…”

One must see a general trend in section 9 the full provision of which may be examined online at the Barbados Parliament website. I would suggest that the powers that be not bother to search for a provision that does not currently exist and instead exert themselves by way of passing an amendment to the Emergency Management Act that explicitly prohibits requiring non-essential personnel to report to work before the all-clear and for a reasonable period thereafter.

Since there is always some fool who will try his/her luck I would suggest that essential/non-essential be appropriately itemised.

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