I refer to an article, “Beef Up Unit! Unionist wants Labour Department revamped,” which appeared in the Saturday Sun of December 31, 2011.
In that article, I was quoted as calling for changes to the Labour Department to make it relevant to the needs of workers. When I was interviewed by the reporter, I was hoping that he would bring my concerns to the attention of the Labour Department. It would appear that he did, but the reported responses of the acting Chief Labour Officer, fell far short of what I expected. The Labour Department was made to look like a toothless bulldog. However, this is not the case; the department has teeth but refuses to use them. Rather than use the laws that already exist to protect workers, it seems as though they are waiting for a new set of teeth in the form of the Employment Rights Bill. Meanwhile workers continue to suffer injustice at the hands of unscrupulous employers and the Labour Department chooses to be impotent.
The acting Chief Labour Officer is quoted as saying: “As it currently stands, we can only, if you think that you have been hard done [by], send you to an attorney”. Instead, he should have said, all that we choose to do is send you to an attorney. He has power to enforce the Protection of Wages Act and other pieces of labour legislation, and where appropriate, he can institute criminal proceedings, in his name, against employers who breach the law.
Very often we hear of employers, even Government owned companies, refusing to pay overtime, choosing instead to give time off for work actually done. This is contrary to the provisions of section 5 of the Protection of Wages Act. While the fine for such an offence is only $48 for the first offence and $96 for a second or subsequent offence: it does not mean that the Labour Department should refuse to enforce the law that has been on the books since November 12, 1951.
Another example where the Labour Department refuses to use the law to protect workers is when an employer refuses to allow an employee to take a holiday to which he is entitled; or when he fails to pay holiday pay. In such cases the Chief Labour Officer can institute criminal proceedings, under section 9 of the Holidays with Pay Act, against the employer. However, if I am to believe the quote from the acting chief Labour Officer, the worker would be directed to an attorney-at-law.
Workers in this country continue to suffer abuse as a result of criminal conduct of employers and the Labour Department that is responsible for enforcing the laws to protect them do nothing. It seems as though the Labour Department as it currently functions, exists only to provide employment for labour officers and support staff. The only people that would miss the Labour Department if it closes would be its staff. My advice to them is not to wait for the elusive Employment Rights Bill. The laws that already exist can still provide some measure of protection for workers but they can’t enforce themselves. Get off your rear ends and do some work for a change!