Opposition moots idea of an industrial court

It may be time for an industrial court in Barbados given the number of labour-related issues confronting employees and employers. St George South Member of Parliament Dwight Sutherland argued today.

As he led the Opposition’s response during debate on the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill 2017 in the House of Assembly, Sutherland said there was need for such a dedicated court to deal strictly with employment-related disputes, rather than have the office of the Chief Labour Officer bogged down in an ever-increasing workload.

“We have a number of [pieces] of legislation that have been referred to the Chief Labour Officer and the Employment Rights Tribunal. The number of laws being handled by the Labour Department right now – the Holiday With Pay Act, Employment Rights Act, Sexual Harassment Act and recently we have been hearing about a bill that has been sent to civil society called the Act to Protect Persons from Discrimination Relating to Employment, dealing with disabilities and religious discrimination.

“We continue to put all this legislation on the statute books, but we don’t have the systems and the mechanism to address these issues. We are choking the system,” Sutherland contended.

He also pointed that so far judgment had been received in “less than five” of the 300 cases filed with the Employment Rights Tribunal “and yet we are putting legislation on top of legislation and referring these cases to the Chief Labour Officer who will refer them to the three tribunal panels when there is only one secretariat to handle three tribunal panels.

“How effective and efficient is this? You do not have the capacity to handle these cases and what you will do is frustrate employees . . . and you will create chaos and mayhem in the workplace,” the Opposition spokesman warned, while calling for systems to be put in place to address these structural deficits.

However, in response to Sutherland’s suggestion, Member of Parliament for Christ Church West Central Stephen Lashley cautioned that while industrial courts were now a feature of other regional jurisdictions, it would change the voluntary system of labour relations to which Barbados had become accustomed.

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