The Caswell Franklyn Column – Government Refuses to Own its Failures
I’ve often said that statements made by ministers of government, at party meetings, should come with a warning that those statements are intended only to rally the party faithful, and should not be taken seriously.
The Daily Nation of March 13, 2018 reported that the Minister of Labour, Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo, while addressing a joint branch meeting two days earlier, charged that some employers were deliberately ignoring notices to appear before the Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT) to deal with cases against them. She went on to say that some believed if they employed stalling tactics, it would stop the cases from moving forward, and claimed that this has led to a backlog of cases.
I hope that in real life (outside of branch meetings) the minister knows that her claim is fanciful. I make bold to say that the backlog of cases results more from government’s failure to provide resources that would enable the work of the ERT to proceed in a timely manner.
The ERT consists of nine members: the chairman and two deputy chairmen, who must be attorneys-at-law; three members nominated by the most representative organisation of employers; and three members nominated by the most representative organisation of employees.
A panel of three persons, one from each category, shall constitute a tribunal to hear a complaint. Simple arithmetic would suggest that three panels would be able to hear cases simultaneously. Unfortunately, Government has only provided enough staff to allow one panel to function at a time. Also, as presently constituted the lawyers, who chair each panel, are employed full time in private practice. As a result, they can only attend to the business of the ERT when they get breaks in their busy schedules. All of this more than anything else contributes to the ERT cases being chronically delayed. I know of cases that were filed in 2014 that have not been assigned to a panel to be heard, even though all the necessary paperwork has been completed.
The minister should not attempt to make scapegoats out of employers for government’s failures, in this regard. A backlog caused by the failure of employers to appear could only indicate that the tribunal would be inadequately discharging its functions. The ERT has remedies available to it to prevent the type of abuse that the was suggested by her. Firstly, the prescribed summons, for persons to appear before the ERT, comes with a warning that says:
“If you fail to obey this summons in any respect without reasonable excuse, you are liable to punishment in the same manner as for contempt of the High Court”.
Secondly, notwithstanding that warning, the ERT always had the power to hear and determine a matter if a party fails to appear.
Government’s failure, to put resources in place to have timely hearings of complaints, have resulted in unscrupulous employers saying to unfairly dismissed workers; take a fraction of the compensation due and sign a release or wait three years for a hearing. Sadly, some claimants have accepted the pittance rather than endure a penniless wait for justice.
Workers in this country do not need finger pointing and excuses from the Government; they need protection.
It would be remiss of me if I did not comment on government’s rejection of proposals to increase public sector wages. This administration is behaving as though it has already lost the upcoming elections and does not care what happens.
As I understand it, there were three proposals on the table: one union was asking for an increase of 23%; another was asking for 15%; and the Government proposed a one-off coping subsidy. Even though I can understand but do not agree that Government could totally reject the unions’ proposals; I find it hard to fathom how it can reject its own proposal.
The only thing that makes sense to me is if the administration is trying to lose the elections. Some time ago the Prime Minister promised that heads would roll if he discovered that there was an internal plot to remove him from office. Could it be that he has finally found out?