By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN THE wake of Sandals’ decision to make hundreds of its employees redundant, the government wants to bring “emergency legislation” to Parliament that would make it a criminal offence for employers to fail to consult or notify the relevant minister or bargaining agent about their intention to make ten or more workers redundant.
This would be “punishable by fine or imprisonment or both”, according to a proposal put forth by the government.
The government has also recommended that employers consult the minister and bargaining agent at least 60 days prior to the redundancy exercise whenever an employer is proposing to make 10 or more employees redundant.
A document obtained by The Tribune, bearing the heading of the Labour Department, contains the recommendations. It is dated August 31, 2016.
According to the document, the government plans to not only force employers to give it and unions substantial notification of redundancy plans and to consult them, but to also remove the cap in the Employment Act which
ensures that there is a 12-year limit on the redundancy pay an employee is entitled to under the law.
The government has long advocated for such changes, but this is their latest attempt to cause members of the National Tripartite Council to discuss the recommendations and consult on them with a view to bringing legislation before Parliament later.
Robert Farquharson, the Labour Director, confirmed that he circulated the documents to members of the Council yesterday and emphasised in an interview with The Tribune that the document is intended to allow members to consult other stakeholders, but is not the final proposal.
“It is the position of the government that these amendments be prepared and read in the House of Assembly on or before September 30, 2016,” the document said.
However, the next House of Assembly sitting is scheduled for October 5.
Labour and National Insurance Minister Shane Gibson could not be reached for comment up to press time yesterday.
Nonetheless, the recommendations are in line with what he has implored the Tripartite Council to consider and agree to.
Noting that about 600 employees of Sandals were dismissed under an “alleged redundancy exercise,” the Labour Department in the document made clear that there is a strong relationship between the recent actions of resort and the government’s decision to press forward with changes to the Employment Act.
“An historic review of the (Sandals) situation confirms that most of the dismissed workers were members of the Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union (BHMAWU), the recognised bargaining agent in accordance with the Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 321 of the Statute Laws of the Bahamas,” the document said.
“The relationship between the management of Sandals and the BHMAWU is well documented and known to members of the National Tripartite Council (NTC). In the days leading up to the dismissal of these workers, senior government officials held detailed discussions with the owners, management and legal advisors of the resort all in an effort to cause the company to change their position not to dismiss the workers. Multiple recommendations were submitted for consideration that would have resulted in the company obtaining their objectives in completing the required repairs while at the same time having all the employees retain their jobs. None of these recommendations were accepted and as a result the mass dismissal of hard working and dedicated Bahamian workers.”
The Labour Department said that given the relationship between the BHMAWU and Sandals, the resort’s refusal to accept the government’s recommendations to ensure Bahamian workers retained their employment means that “the owners of the resort may have other motives in the decision in dismissing the workers.”
“The process of redundancy as articulated by the resort in this matter may be in breach of the meaning of redundancy as set out in the Employment Act 2001,” the department said.
“While the BHMAWU may be taking steps in the judicial system to protect its members, it is the duty of the government of the Bahamas to respond to enacting legislation to ensure that what occurred with these workers will never happen again.”
The document also said: “Failure of the employer to abide by the consultation and notification period for the minister and bargaining agent will result in the employer having to make payment to the employee in addition to the normal notice and severance payment.”
Of the proposed changes to the Employment Act, the document added: “In redefining the meaning of redundancy, include in the definition as a requirement a sliding scale to ensure that once 10 or more persons are made redundant the notification period to the minister and bargaining agent increases based on the amount of persons to be made redundant.”
“Redefine the meaning of redundancy in the Employment Act to clearly make a difference between what was done in the Sandals matter (ie termination of employees).”
Mr Goudie yesterday said he does not yet have a position on the recommendations.
“We just got presented with it. We’ve got our hands full and have some consultations to do,” he said. Nonetheless, Mr Goudie and other business leaders have, in the past, expressed strong opposition to removing the cap on severance pay.
“We would be concerned about that because it relates to the ease of doing business and the cost of doing business in the Bahamas,” he said earlier this week.
Meanwhile, one senior business executive told The Tribune about the proposal: “What gives the government the right to tell a private employer who they have to notify prior to taking a business decision? Out of courtesy maybe - but not mandatorily.
“It is essentially an attempt to interfere with how a business is run,” the executive said. “Why in the hell would the government expect anyone to invest in this country ever again?”