Amend Emergency Management Act!
It’s not often that one gets to quote oneself. Today appears to be my lucky day.
In November 2013, I wrote “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 itemized.”
One month and a few days shy of three years and we are still no better off. Employers in this fair land actually had the temerity to call out workers in the midst of a tropical storm when the “all clear” had not been given. I would like to name and shame these perpetrators but the editor might have serious objections to that (although truth is a defence to any charge of defamation).
In 2013, the Attorney General was getting an opinion on whether such behaviour is permitted by our laws. The opinion clearly was never produced and we are sending police officers out in this weather to shut down businesses, the owners of which are reportedly at home with their families. One owner even went so far as to state on Facebook that it was good work ethic that saw his/her workers out in a storm.
No, my dear! They are at work because they are afraid of being fired if they fail to turn up. Massa is apparently alive and well and living off the fears of Barbadian workers. Rant aside, section 14 of the Constitution of Barbados provides that “no person shall be required to perform forced labour”.
However, 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”.
Is a fast food outlet or supermarket an essential service? Newsflash: everyone went to the supermarket yesterday. There’s always that person in the crowd who has to have everything explained in the most basic terms. So here goes. Essential services 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. We know what the police, fire service and medical personnel do.
The Department of Emergency Management (DEM) was created in 2006 by section 3 of the Emergency Management Act, Chapter 160A. It 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 organizations 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) mobilization of services and systems, including procedures for the manning of Emergency Operations Centres . . . ”
Are we going to pass an amendment to the Emergency Management Act or the Employment Rights Act this time round?
(Alicia Archer is an attorney-at-law in private practice)