By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE results of a Court of Appeal hearing on an earlier ruling that effectively entitled Bahamian workers to an extra week of paid vacation is “a matter of general importance” as it will have “implications for the entire workforce in the Bahamas.”
This is according to members of the Union of Central Bankers who gathered on the steps of the Court of Appeal yesterday morning before the start of the hearings, which had been adjourned to mid-November.
In August, Industrial Tribunal president Harrison Lockhart ruled that the term “two weeks” as it related to vacation pay really means 14 working days and ‘three weeks” means 21 working days, in the Employment Act.
His decision arose as a result of a dispute over the “recently renegotiated and approved” Industrial Agreement made between the Central Bank of the Bahamas and the union representing its workers, union president Melony Munnings explained.
One term of that newly negotiated agreement was for employees who have worked for a continuous period of more than 16 years to receive an added five working days of vacation.
A dispute arose between the two parties – the union and the bank – over whether it was lawful for the Central Bank to calculate the benefit of vacation benefits on a pro rata basis during the first year of the agreement, Ms Munnings said.
“As we understand it, the substance of the Central Bank’s argument is that vacation accrues incrementally on a monthly basis. Therefore the entitlement to the additional vacation days should be prorated during the initial year of the agreement.
“On the other hand, the union has argued that the benefit of the additional days accrued fully and immediately to those entitled and that there was no scope or lawful precedent for proration,” Ms Munnings explained.
A dispute was submitted to the Labour Board and then subsequently referred to the Labour Tribunal as a result of the Bank and the union’s failure to agree. On August 28, Mr Lockhart handed down his decision.
In addition to his ruling on the Employment Act’s vacation days, he found the proration of the additional five days vacation benefit, granted under the new agreement, was unlawful.
The Central Bank has subsequently appealed this decision in the Court of Appeal. The appeal officially started yesterday, but was adjourned to November 26.
National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) president, Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson, was also present on the steps of the Court of Appeal yesterday to offer her support to the Union of Central Bankers.
“The ruling definitely has implication for the entire workforce in the Bahamas and I think the Central Bank should not be wasting the government’s money appealing this decision,” she said
“Changing the Employment Act to reflect the same and ensure that vacation days – that there’s no room for interpretation and the right amount of days are hereby allocated moving forward, I think, is an important step to do.
“I think the Central Bank of the Bahamas and the governor (Wendy Craigg) are definitely wrong for taking this matter to court and they should just try to settle this matter out of court and allocate and give the workers at the Central Bank the vacation they’re entitled too.”
Ms Isaacs-Dotson explained getting the “correct interpretation” of the vacation days is important because it could result in an amendment to the Employment Act and, she claimed, National Insurance and Labour Minister Shane Gibson would not be opposed to such an amendment.
“I think based on this ruling, it will have implications on us asking for an amendment for the Employment Act. So I think this has, as Ms Munnings has said, greater implications not just for the union or the Central Bank, but for the country as a whole,” Ms Isaacs-Dotson said.
“And I think that the Minister of Labour, because he’s aware of the situation, is willing to propose that amendment to the Employment Act, but, of course, we know how the employers feel about it.”
Employers, including Dionisio D’Aguilar of Superwash and Chester Cooper of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, have spoken out against the Tribunal’s ruling.