The Caswell Franklyn Column – MY VOTE HAS A PRICE
After many years of observing the quality of governance that Barbadians are forced to undergo at the national level, I decided that I would stay away from the polls at the upcoming general elections. Then, after seeing the lavish Christmas gifts that certain members of parliament distributed to their constituents, ostensibly, in my opinion, to influence the vote, I had a change of heart.
I have decided that my vote would also come at a price. It will more than likely go to the political party that gives a solemn commitment to reform and enforce this country’s labour laws, in order to alleviate the harsh; and in some cases, slave-like conditions that workers endure just to keep food on their tables.
This country has more than its fair share of labour laws that are either little known and where known, there is little to no mechanisms in place to enforce them. In addition these laws are contained in too many different statutes. Starting today and leading up to the general elections, I will highlight some of the more glaring examples where reform and enforcement are needed.
In 1951 parliament enacted the Protection of Wages Act which, among other things, provided that wages must be paid entirely in legal tender (money). A subsequent amendment in 1975 allowed employers to pay, in addition to monetary wages, allowances other than monetary allowances, provided that they are of personal benefit to the worker and his family; and are of a fair and reasonable value. Without that provision, it would be illegal for an employer to give a remuneration package that included housing or a vehicle.
That provision has now been misinterpreted to allow employers to compensate workers with time off for actually working overtime. I have even heard one lawyer, with an LEC by the way, argue that the employee would be able to spend the time off with his family, and as such, it would satisfy the requirement that the compensation should be of benefit to the worker and his family.
It is bad enough when private sector employers bend or even break the law in this regard, but it is hair-raisingly dishonest for Government to knowingly resort to such tactics just to cut back on salary costs. One such government entity that compensate workers with time off for work actually done is the Grantley Adams International Airport. Despite the letter and spirit of the law, their terms and conditions document contains provisions for compensatory time off for work actually done. This matter is even more troubling when you consider that those terms and conditions were negotiated and signed off by a trade union.
Also at subsection 9.(2) the act allows workers to request their employers to make deductions from their wages to pay third parties. It states:
“A worker may assign a part of the wages payable to him under a contract of employment”.
In effect any worker, who has periodic commitments like loan payments, insurance premiums or union dues can request the employer to make the appropriate deduction and pay it over to the third party. Essentially, the employer is doing the worker a favour by making the deduction. However, as time has gone by, a practice has developed where the employer refuses request to stop making the deductions, unless the third party gives permission. This is so ludicrous, it isn’t funny. Just imagine asking someone to do you a favour and that person refusing to stop doing the favour when requested to stop.
Recently a friend of mine, who is a government employee and who had been paying an insurance policy for his daughter, instructed the accounts department to stop making the deductions from his salary because the policy had matured. They refused to carry out his instructions and told him that they would have to get permission from the insurance provider. The only deductions that an employee cannot stop are government imposed deductions, like National Insurance contributions and income tax, and court ordered deductions like child support.
Any person who assigns part of his salary can also stop the employer from making the deductions without more. Unfortunately, you will not hear any other union leader making this clear, simply because unions and some employers collaborate to keep workers trapped in the employers’ preferred union.
Workers have a constitutional right to belong to trade unions of their choice, it is not up to the employer to force them to stay. Government must therefore clarify the law to protect workers even from their trade unions.