In Barbados, the newly proclaimed Employment Rights Act, offers protection of workers against unfair dismissal. It also serves to protect workers from being unceremonious dismissed by the employer, as has been claimed to be the practice in the past.
The charge has frequently been made that some employers have seemingly taken pride in handing out letters to employees at the end of the working day. Some have used it as a punitive weapon, often using dismissal as a means of removing from their employ persons viewed as trouble makers, or who are not favoured by the employer.
Needless to say that many a shop steward would have been a victim of such mercenary action.
The Employment Rights Act clearly addresses the procedures for the dismissal of an employee. This does not mean that some employers will not attempt to circumvent the provisions of the act. One can only hope that the full weight of the law is brought to bear upon those employers who fail to comply and continue on a path of disrespecting workers’ rights.
Now that the Chief Labour Officer has some extended powers under the act, it is to be anticipated that these will be fully exercised towards ensuring both policing and compliance.
The act certainly does not remove the right of the employer to dismiss an employee, but it seeks to regulate the behaviour of employers when it comes to the termination of workers. The important thing to note is that employers are now required to give an employee notice of intending termination.
Very important also is the fact that the employer is now required to give reasons for the dismissal of an employee. What this imposes on employers is the need for them to keep accurate records. It is expected that employers will keep records on breaches, matters of discipline; including both verbal and written warnings that were issued to an employee.
Where employers may have deemed it a right to dismiss an employee at will, the Employment Rights Act now tempers that thinking and behaviour. The act at section 22 (1), sets out the notice period that is now required to be given by an employer who intends to terminate an employee.
The law stipulates the minimum notice period which applies to hourly, daily, or weekly paid employees, who have been continuously employed for one year or more. The basic notice period is one week, where the period of continuous employment of an employee is less than two years, two weeks’ notice where the employee is continuously employed for or more but less than five years, four weeks’ notice where the employee is continuously employed for ten years or more but less than 15 years, and ten weeks’ notice where there is continuous employment of the employee for 15 years or more.
This aspect of the law is very important as far as the protection of the most vulnerable workers is concerned. It is not unusual to find that many casual and temporary workers are not unionised. The excuse is often offered up that they cannot afford the weekly or monthly payment of union dues.
For those whose base pay is linked to the minimum wage of $6.25 per hour for a forty hour work week, this might prove to be a little challenging; depending largely upon the level of individual commitments and responsibility.
Notwithstanding the prevailing circumstances, every individual is to be encouraged to make the sacrifice to join a trade union of choice. A sacrifice of $5 a week is worth the representation and support to be had from the trade union.
Today, every Barbadian worker can go to work confident and without fear of being dismissed at a moment’s notice, unless that person is summarily or instantly dismissed for a reprehensible act or conduct, such as theft, violence, and falsification of records.
* Dennis de Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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